Stern carefully and gingerly sifts through the changes wrought not only by the American presence, but, critically, by their...

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THE LAST THOUSAND

ONE SCHOOL'S PROMISE IN A NATION AT WAR

A personalized rendering of a decade’s toll of war on one vilified segment of the Afghan populace determined to change its destiny.

Journalist Stern, who helped launch Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Initiative, zeroes in on the remarkable efforts of a particular Shia teacher, of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan, who bucked the violent anti-American, pro-Taliban sectarianism during the last decade and managed to establish a well-regarded school outside the country’s capital. The author creates a compelling narrative out of the life of Aziz, aka the Teacher, a former “holy warrior” radicalized when his people were exiled in the early 1990s to refugee camps in Pakistan, where he first started a school. After 9/11, Aziz and the Hazaras fought with the American-led invasion forces against the Taliban and established his school in Kabul, “the first private school in Afghanistan.” Called Marefat—meaning wisdom and enlightenment, among other things—the school grew in enrollment to a few thousand students, both girls and boys, and stuck boldly to an independent, “irreverent” teaching approach—i.e., free of clerical influence. In this intimate narrative, Stern takes up the stories of some of the key players in making the school a success—e.g., Najiba, “the Student,” an illiterate adult woman with several children who not only pushed for her children to attend the school, but resolved to learn to read herself for her own “liberation”; Michael Metrinko, “the American,” who volunteered with the Peace Corps in the Middle East and ended up helping Aziz find funding; and Ta Manna, “the Troublemaker,” a young Hazara student who had to unlearn the terrorist mentality in order to participate in the school. The author concludes with an account of the valiant but doomed attempt to elect an improbable leader, Ashraf Ghani, who, though a Pashtun (an enemy of the Hazaras), is committed to the people’s education.

Stern carefully and gingerly sifts through the changes wrought not only by the American presence, but, critically, by their withdrawal.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-04993-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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