An impressive blend of painstaking historical scholarship and riveting storytelling.

YANKS BEHIND THE LINES

HOW THE COMMISSION FOR RELIEF IN BELGIUM SAVED MILLIONS FROM STARVATION DURING WORLD WAR I

A historical work focuses on the massive humanitarian effort designed to feed a Belgian population starving under German occupation during World War I.

In 1914, Germany invaded Belgium on its way to France, a remarkably brazen violation of the nation’s avowed neutrality. The occupation that ensued was an unmerciful one—factories and coal mines were shuttered; the harvest was largely destroyed; and whatever provisions were available were commandeered by German soldiers. As the first winter approached, it was increasingly possible that a considerable swath of the Belgian population—and many civilians in Northern France, too—faced starvation. Miller chronicles, with the granular precision of an investigative journalist, a brilliant effort to urgently usher supplies to the Belgian people, “one of America’s finest hours in humanitarian aid.” Two collaborative organizations were born—the Commission for Relief in Belgium, founded in London and headed by Herbert Hoover, and the Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation, established in Brussels and led by Émile Francqui, a business tycoon. The CRB bought and transported the food by ship to Rotterdam while the CN prepared and distributed it. The two sister agencies grappled with myriad obstacles—the British opposed the program because it broke its blockade of German shipments; vessels were hard to find; and the political hurdles were extraordinary, all meticulously documented by the author. The Germans only acquiesced because they thought a better fed citizenry would be more docile and easier to control. Miller brings a complex story to vivid life, astutely explaining the political and cultural landscape of Belgium but also the unfolding of the conflict. The author even accounts for the ways in which the CRB, in particular Hoover, contributed to America’s entry into the war. This is a powerful work of history, as informative as it is dramatically gripping.

An impressive blend of painstaking historical scholarship and riveting storytelling.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5381-4163-2

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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As Wonder Woman might say, Suffering Sappho! This book is fascinating, fun, and consistently enlightening.

THE HEROINE WITH 1001 FACES

From Penelope and Pandora to Katniss Everdeen and Lisbeth Salander, the "hero's journey" gets a much-needed makeover.

In her latest, Tatar—the Harvard professor of folklore and mythology and Germanic languages and literature who has annotated collections of classic fairy tales, Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, among others—begins by pointing out that all of the faces of heroism discussed in Joseph Campbell's influential book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), are male. To correct this requires a revision of the concept of heroism itself, rooted in numerous foundational texts. Starting with Greek mythology and Scheherezade and moving through the centuries all the way to the Game of Thrones series and The Queen's Gambit, Tatar incisively explores women's reinvention of heroism to embrace empathy, compassion, and care, often to pursue social justice. Among the many high points in this engaging study: an analysis of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables as autofiction, Jurassic Park as a reimagining of “Hansel and Gretel,” Harriet the Spy as an antiheroine, and a deep dive into the backstory of Wonder Woman. Receiving their own chapters are female sleuths such as Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, and the less well known characters of Kate Fansler, an academic, and Blanche White, who is Black. The book really takes off when it gets to contemporary culture, particularly in a section that identifies a female version of the "trickster" archetype in Everdeen and Salander. Of this lineage, among the shared interesting traits not traditionally associated with women characters is a prodigious appetite. "Like Gretel, Pippi Longstocking, and Lisbeth Salander before her,” writes Tatar, “Katniss gorges on rich food yet her hunger never ceases." The text is illustrated with many reproductions of paintings and other artwork—including a postcardworthy panel from the original Wonder Woman—that add much to the text.

As Wonder Woman might say, Suffering Sappho! This book is fascinating, fun, and consistently enlightening.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-881-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.

THE UNDOCUMENTED AMERICANS

The debut book from “one of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard.”

In addition to delivering memorable portraits of undocumented immigrants residing precariously on Staten Island and in Miami, Cleveland, Flint, and New Haven, Cornejo Villavicencio, now enrolled in the American Studies doctorate program at Yale, shares her own Ecuadorian family story (she came to the U.S. at age 5) and her anger at the exploitation of hardworking immigrants in the U.S. Because the author fully comprehends the perils of undocumented immigrants speaking to journalist, she wisely built trust slowly with her subjects. Her own undocumented status helped the cause, as did her Spanish fluency. Still, she protects those who talked to her by changing their names and other personal information. Consequently, readers must trust implicitly that the author doesn’t invent or embellish. But as she notes, “this book is not a traditional nonfiction book….I took notes by hand during interviews and after the book was finished, I destroyed those notes.” Recounting her travels to the sites where undocumented women, men, and children struggle to live above the poverty line, she reports her findings in compelling, often heart-wrenching vignettes. Cornejo Villavicencio clearly shows how employers often cheat day laborers out of hard-earned wages, and policymakers and law enforcement agents exist primarily to harm rather than assist immigrants who look and speak differently. Often, cruelty arrives not only in economic terms, but also via verbal slurs and even violence. Throughout the narrative, the author explores her own psychological struggles, including her relationships with her parents, who are considered “illegal” in the nation where they have worked hard and tried to become model residents. In some of the most deeply revealing passages, Cornejo Villavicencio chronicles her struggles reconciling her desire to help undocumented children with the knowledge that she does not want "kids of my own." Ultimately, the author’s candor about herself removes worries about the credibility of her stories.

A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-399-59268-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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