MIAMI

Not unexpectedly, and with customary flair, Didion ignores the traditional features of Miami, looks briefly at tense race relations, white flight, and a saturated real-estate market, and concentrates on a kind of second city, the community of Cuban exiles who have prospered even as they pursue la lucha, the straggle. This is, of course, the kind of scene she favors: political intrigue and moral issues dominate conversations, and young girls celebrate their birthdays dressed in tiaras and fur-trimmed capes. Although her focus is idiosyncratically selective and at times her flinty, mannered style nearly parodies itself ("Hot dogs were passed, and Coca-cola spilled"), overall she is in control of this consistently engrossing material. In the 60's, Cuban refugees took the unskilled jobs that might have been offered to blacks. Many also worked (without formal government acknowledgement) for the CIA, fueled by a series of apparently intentional deceptions about policy. Exile was—is—"the organizing principle" of their lives, and the men of the 2506 Brigade (the unsupported invasion force) remain grand heroes. "I would say that John F. Kennedy is still the number two most hated man in Miami," a failed mayoral candidate volunteers, and Didion emphasizes reports linking exiles to the assassination (and reminds of Cuban involvement in Watergate and the Iran/contra tangles). Nowadays many of these men are wealthy and powerful, highly visible within the exile community, often unknown to non-Cuban citizens. Much of this information comes from conventional sources: the Herald, passionate loyalists, a university study. But this Miami is no "rich and wicked pastel boomtown," as the semi-official image would have it. Didion presents a more complex and genuinely dramatic situation, inflecting her work with astute observations about the city's unique political circumstances and lingering on the kinds of details that have colored her other writings: a hotel offering "guerrilla discounts," a gun shop advertising Father's Day specials, house blessed with "Unusual Security and Ready Access to the Ocean." Another persistently stylish report that, with its JFK references and drug-runner allusions, has even more outreach than usual.

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Pub Date: Oct. 9, 1987

ISBN: 0679781803

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1987

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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