A well-conceived and solidly written perspective on the African diaspora.

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MIDDLE PASSAGES

AFRICAN AMERICAN JOURNEYS TO AFRICA, 1787-2005

Campbell (History/Brown Univ.) assembles a fine look at various homecomings to a continent that was not often welcoming, for many of the stolen sons and daughters of Africa returned to find that they were now truly “American.”

Some, like Richard Pryor, joked about it, while others, such as Eddie Harris and Maya Angelou, found the situation disturbing. The first great travelers presented here are fascinating characters nearly lost to history: the Muslim nobleman Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, ransomed from slavery in Maryland by sympathetic Londoners in 1733 and returned to Gambia (where, ironically, he became a slaver); the musician Newport Gardner, author of “the first compositions published by a black person in American history,” who finally returned to Africa from Rhode Island as an old man, having tried for years to make the crossing. Campbell sets forth that leaders such as Thomas Jefferson encouraged such homecomings, inasmuch as they meant that blacks would leave America; he even made inquiries about whether the British government would accept black Americans in the new colony of Sierra Leone. Many African-Americans did travel to West Africa in resettlement schemes, and many died en route, while “many of those that survived immediately began searching for ways to return to the United States.” So it was with author Richard Wright, who traveled to Ghana to witness independence and was terribly alienated by the corruption he found, and Era Bell Thompson, whose Egyptian experiences led her to “thank God for the Stars and Stripes.” Yet others, such as W.E.B. DuBois, found that they liked being among the privileged elite. In the end, Campbell observes, there are as many kinds of homecomings as there are travelers.

A well-conceived and solidly written perspective on the African diaspora.

Pub Date: May 4, 2006

ISBN: 1-59420-083-1

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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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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