A perceptive and subtle meditation about a “true reckoning with the self.”



The nuances and complexities of silence.

Brox (Creative Writing/Lesley Univ.; Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, 2010, etc.) moves from the openness and space found in her earlier, well-received books on farms to places far more confining. This poignant and somber book is as much about solitude as it is silence. It’s also a social history of buildings and people who inhabit them, primarily prisons and monasteries, and the silence, whether imposed or invited, that inhabits those within. The author begins with the history of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in 1829, it was largely inspired by Founding Father Benjamin Rush’s belief in a “new kind of justice,” the “silent and separate incarceration of criminals.” The plan was to make prisons “as forbidding and repellent as possible.” Throughout, Brox intimately imagines its first prisoner, Charles Williams, an 18-year-old black farmer, personally experiencing the horrors and sufferings of prison life. The author then transitions to a historical examination of the monastery and the monks who chose a life of voluntary imprisonment as a means to achieve a more spiritual life. Silence, monastic chants, and prayers were an integral part of their daily lives, as was community, something Williams was forbidden. A large part of the book explores the austere life and writings of the famous Trappist pacifist monk Thomas Merton and his life at Kentucky’s Abbey of Gethsemani. Brox touches on many diverse topics, including the lives of nuns in monasteries and the horrific World War II bombing of the Monte Cassino monastery, and invokes many voices, including Dickens, Thoreau, Eugenia Ginzburg, a prisoner of Stalin’s Great Purge, author Doris Grumbach, and Brox’s “own most profound encounter with silence.” She concludes that silence can be many things, from an unwelcome punishment or a “lifelong commitment” to a “deliberate inquiry” or a “last resort.”

A perceptive and subtle meditation about a “true reckoning with the self.”

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-544-70248-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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


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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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