AN AMERICAN JOURNEY by Jean Kinney

AN AMERICAN JOURNEY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

SLA member Willy Wolfe helped kidnap Patty Hearst, became her lover, and died at 22 in the nationally televised shoot-out fire in Los Angeles. That makes slim pickings for a full-scale biography. So, for half the book we are told what a sweet, sensitive child this son of a liberal, upper-class family was. He cried after a hurricane and was even ""more upset the next morning when he saw dead squirrels and rabbits."" He wet his bed and he was ""devastated"" by his parents' divorce. An underachiever in prep school, he failed to fulfill his ambition to go to Yale like his siblings and his father (whom he called ""Ace""). Taking a year off to work, Willy became radicalized, it seems, by reading the New York Times (!), and when he visited Berkeley during the People's Park confrontation, he found his niche. At this point, the book picks up. Wolfe got involved as a tutor in the Black Cultural Association in Vacaville prison, and became a go-between for inmates caught up in a web of Panthers and followers of Che, Mao, and George Jackson. From these radicalized black prison groups, from the Vietnam Vets Against the War, and from Venceremos, there emerged the SLA. Kinney provides brief sketches of the members and shows how their problems as blacks, women, criminals, radicals, and idealists meshed in what their leader, Donald DeFreeze (Cinque), perceived as ""symbiosis."" Kinney follows the SLA through the assassination of an Oakland school superintendent, the subsequent robberies, the Hearst kidnapping, and the fiery finale. Although she interviewed remaining SLA members and friends, the crucial witness is silent. Part of Patty's defense was to deny a love affair with Willy and so we have only the oft-repeated quotes from her SLA tapes. Along with lots of speculation, there are dozens of pointless quotes (e.g., Mrs. Wolfe's obstetrician's view of her husband as a doctor); and the political environment is reduced to headlines and taglines. To Willy's family, and to Kinney, gentle Willy the terrorist makes no sense; the rest of us will learn enough from this book--half sponge cake, half steel file--not to be surprised.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Simon & Schuster