A start toward recording the history of an underdocumented, influential presence in American society, but be warned: The...

THE ARAB AMERICANS

A HISTORY

An idiosyncratic account of Arab immigrants and their native-born children in America.

Orfalea (Writing/Pitzer College) doesn’t trade in ethnic history on a par with, say, Manuel Gonzales’s Mexicanos (1999) or Michael Coffey’s The Irish in America (1998). Rather, he offers a family-and-friends-based account of the three major waves of Arab immigration to the U.S., as with his reminiscence of a colleague: “In the dead of winter, in January 2005, Hisham Sharabi died of cancer in Beirut at 77. If not Palestine, at least he had palms and the sea and his beauties nearby. From my perch in California looking out at the snowy San Bernardinos, I see him smile.” Among his interviewees are writer Vance Bourjaily, “one of the only serious American novelists of Lebanese heritage to make a name for himself in fiction” (William Peter Blatty, of Exorcist fame, lacks sufficient gravitas to count); a Yemeni doctor in Michigan who has given up haunting libraries for fear of falling victim to the Patriot Act; actor F. Murray Abraham, who remarks, “I’m half Syrian, half Italian—of course I empathize with any Mediterranean people, especially Semites”; Paul Orfalea, founder of the Kinko’s copy shop chain; and entertainers Casey Kasem and Danny Thomas, ever careful to avoid alienating the mainstream audience. When Orfalea does write straight history, he often falls into error: Estevanico, servant of conquistadors, was a Moor, not an Arab, and was killed by Zunis, not Navajos; Hadj Ali, one of the first Muslim immigrants to America, was a Greek convert who used his birth name for official purposes, not an Arab who was forced by unfeeling immigration officials to take a non-Islamic name. Such slips serve the author’s contention that Arabs have suffered aplenty in the New World, but they undermine his authority.

A start toward recording the history of an underdocumented, influential presence in American society, but be warned: The book has mistakes.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-56656-597-9

Page Count: 457

Publisher: Olive Branch/Interlink

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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