WRITING TO SAVE A LIFE

THE LOUIS TILL FILE

A book seething with the passion and sense of outrage behind the Black Lives Matter movement that also traces specific roots...

The present illuminates the past—but can’t provide resolution—in this generation-spanning meditation on injustice.

Wideman (God’s Gym, 2005, etc.) initially conducted his research to inform some fiction focusing on Emmitt Till, the 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped and murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. “Though today Emmett Till is generally viewed as a civil rights martyr,” writes the renowned author, “the shabby trial that exonerated his killers, and the crucial role played by Till’s father in the trial have largely disappeared from the public’s imagination.” It is the life and death of father Louis Till that obsesses Wideman, in a manner that blurs the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. During World War II, Louis was executed for rape and murder in Italy, a case based on another black soldier’s turning informant to escape prosecution and on shaky testimony from Italian women. Even after Emmitt’s accused murderers were acquitted, there had been the opportunity to try them on the charge of kidnapping, until a supposedly confidential file on the hanging of Louis became public knowledge: “With this information about Emmitt Till’s father in hand, the Mississippi grand jury declined to indict…for kidnapping.” There are many layers of meaning in this book, especially regarding the identification of Wideman with Emmitt, both of them 14 when the author saw a photo of the dead boy’s battered face, and the narrative expands into a meditation on black fathers and sons, the divide and the bonds, the genetic inheritance within a racist society. The author also explores the relationship between truth and fiction, since he believes the case against Louis can be read as fiction, and he composes his own fictions to counter it. He suggests that Louis was mainly guilty “of being the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time” while admitting that he has no more proof than military officials did.

A book seething with the passion and sense of outrage behind the Black Lives Matter movement that also traces specific roots of the movement’s genealogy.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-4728-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

NIGHT

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

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview