LIFE ON THE COLOR LINE

THE TRUE STORY OF A WHITE BOY WHO DISCOVERED HE WAS BLACK

This memoir of a boy's struggle with a conflicted racial identity too often remains on the emotional surface of its loaded topic. Williams (dean, College of Law/Ohio State Univ.) believed that he was white for the first ten years of his life in 1950s Virginia. Then, when his parents separated, his mother, Lois, went to Washington, D.C., while his father brought him and his brother, Mike, back to his own hometown of Muncie, Ind. There the boys learned that their father, the alcoholic and often unemployable James ``Buster'' Williams, was in fact a light-skinned black man who had, for most of his adult life, chosen to cope with a racism and segregation by ``passing'' as an Italian-American, even calling himself ``Tony.'' Gregory and his brother grew up on the black side of town among their father's relatives. Meanwhile Lois Williams never came to see her two ``colored'' sons, although it later turned out that she had visited her parents in Muncie many times throughout Gregory's adolescence. Though black kids frequently taunted and threatened Gregory for looking white, his light skin bought him few privileges in the white world. After school officials found out that he lived among black people, he had to fight to maintain his position as first-string quarterback, and as he got older, he received warnings not to date white girls. The book promises an intimate view of biracial experience, but Williams often loses his story in well-worn rags-to-riches clichÇs (``Muncie...has lived inside me forever''), and his language is often stilted and formal, which distances both him and his readers from the complex emotions suggested by the story. More frustrating still, events that involve people who are still alive are left unexamined—his eventual marriage, for instance, to a white woman who at one point ended their relationship under pressure from her family. Williams's memoir does illuminate some complexities of the biracial experience, though its reserve keeps other questions in the dark.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-525-93850-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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