An impressive blend of painstaking historical scholarship and riveting storytelling.

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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: tomorrow

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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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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A valuable contribution to our understanding of one of history’s most vital figures.

THE PRISON LETTERS OF NELSON MANDELA

An epistolary memoir of Nelson Mandela’s prison years.

From August 1962 to February 1990, Mandela (1918-2013) was imprisoned by the apartheid state of South Africa. During his more than 27 years in prison, the bulk of which he served on the notorious Robben Island prison off the shores of Cape Town, he wrote thousands of letters to family and friends, lawyers and fellow African National Congress members, prison officials, and members of the government. Heavily censored for both content and length, letters from Robben Island and South Africa’s other political prisons did not always reach their intended targets; when they did, the censorship could make them virtually unintelligible. To assemble this vitally important collection, Venter (A Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada's Notebook from Robben Island, 2006, etc.), a longtime Johannesburg-based editor and journalist, pored through these letters in various public and private archives across South Africa and beyond as well as Mandela’s own notebooks, in which he transcribed versions of these letters. The result is a necessary, intimate portrait of the great leader. The man who emerges is warm and intelligent and a savvy, persuasive, and strategic thinker. During his life, Mandela was a loving husband and father, a devotee of the ANC’s struggle, and capable of interacting with prominent statesmen and the ANC’s rank and file. He was not above flattery or hard-nosed steeliness toward his captors as suited his needs, and he was always yearning for freedom, not only—or even primarily—for himself, but rather for his people, a goal that is the constant theme of this collection and was the consuming vision of his entire time as a prisoner. Venter adds tremendous value with his annotations and introductions to the work as a whole and to the book’s various sections.

A valuable contribution to our understanding of one of history’s most vital figures.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-117-7

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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