SALVADOR

Anyone who has read accounts of Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia or junta-ruled Argentina (Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia) will recognize the "mechanisms of terror" Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne found on a two-week visit to El Salvador in June 1982. One doesn't have to visit a body dump or the San Salvador morgue to know about the daily killings. One needn't even have lunch with US ambassador Deane Hinton—crystal glasses, profiteroles—to realize that we've been fooling ourselves, with their complicity: "trying to get the Salvadoran government to 'appear' to do what the American government wanted done in order to make it 'appear' that the American aid was justified." And that, for the Salvadoran part, "'anti-communism' was seen, correctly, as the bait the United States would always take." In the light of the last half-century, it can't be argued that attention-getting Americans like Didion shouldn't add their denunciations to what human rights organizations (Amnesty International, the American Watch Committee) have documented and the press has reported. Press attention, in particular, constantly shifts—bringing a much-remarked end, Didion notes, to the Hotel Camino Real's breakfast buffet. Such precise observations are rare, however (though not entirely absent—re Ambassador Hinton: "Someone who is about to marry a third time, who thinks of himself as the father of ten, and who has spent much of his career in chancy posts . . . is apt to be someone who believes in the possible"). Much that is said about El Salvador—from the "elusive shadows" to the ersatz ethnic dances—could equally be said about other such situations. And Didion's dry runs, her admission of how hard it is to find out anything—combined with her professed intent to learn "la verdad," as if the truth were ascertainable (even with more time and broader contacts)—make this a document of passing interest, better suited to its original publication in the New York Review.

Pub Date: March 28, 1983

ISBN: 0679751831

Page Count: 93

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1983

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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