An accessible, entrancing story that draws readers into a family’s many triumphs and travails.

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BLACK DIAMOND DESTINY

This posthumous release by first-time novelist Norris largely succeeds in ensnaring fans of multigenerational melodramas.

Norris tells the saga, based on a true story, of the Mattisons, a family of hardscrabble, mountain farmers in West Virginia who, out of desperation, develop a small outcrop of coal on their property and become miners. The novel follows the secretive, nefarious way the mining venture got its startup capital—which causes the family’s daughter, Gem, to strike out on her own, becoming the madam of the lone bawdy house in the nearby town of Fairmont, while her brothers join her father in what grows into the world’s largest coal corporation. As the Mattisons flourish and become a mining dynasty, Norris does a marvelous job getting readers emotionally invested in the ever-expanding family, especially those members working to better the hazardous conditions for the miners, despite the deplorable indifference of the coal barons. Like such generational-saga veterans as James Michener and John Jakes, Norris admirably weaves fascinating historical details into her narrative, with her exhaustive research giving context to events within her novel. Following the Mattisons takes readers on a journey through the development of West Virginia’s coal mining industry, which comes to rule the state. Norris, a former West Virginia schoolteacher, started the novel at the age of 72, but failing health caused her to set it aside in the midst of revisions. Her son Randolph rediscovered the work, which had been tucked in a closet for 23 years, and shepherded it through to publication. Norris’ legacy is an engrossing tale of love and heartbreak, wealth and greed. The book would have benefited from more thorough editing, though, to remove repetitiveness and fix typos, but the story’s overall strength overcomes these shortcomings.

An accessible, entrancing story that draws readers into a family’s many triumphs and travails.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-1481772693

Page Count: 260

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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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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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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