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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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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