An informed look at Southern history refracted through the lens of fiction.

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ATTICUS FINCH

THE BIOGRAPHY

The creation and evolution of a fictional character serves as a mirror of racial politics.

Atticus Finch appeared in two novels written by Harper Lee: as the hero of the Pulitzer Prize–winning To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960; and as a more complex character—hardly a “touchstone of decency and goodness”—in Lee’s first novel, Go Set a Watchman, not published until 2015. Crespino (History/Emory Univ.; Strom Thurmond’s America, 2012, etc.) makes the fictional Atticus central to his study of Lee’s father, lawyer and newspaper editor A.C. Lee; Harper’s career as a writer; and, what gives the book heft, a close look at the Southern politics and civil rights struggles in the 1950s and ’60s from which Lee’s fiction emerged. When Mockingbird first appeared, A.C. was surprised when his neighbors in Monroeville, Alabama, greeted him as Atticus Finch. “He hadn’t recognized himself in the book at all,” writes the author. Nor would he have recognized himself in the “shrewd lawyer” with racist views of Go Set a Watchman. Lee’s first book was unsettling to many of Mockingbird’s fans precisely because Atticus was both a “principled southerner” and “a pragmatic segregationist.” While biographers have assumed A.C. was the inspiration for Atticus in Mockingbird, Crespino probes the extent to which Lee portrayed her father in the darker Watchman. Besides drawing on newly available correspondence, he examines hundreds of editorials in which A.C. expressed opinions on local and national issues to offer a nuanced portrait of a man of “paternalistic sensibilities” who “saw no profit in inflaming racial passions on either side of the color line.” The Atticus of Mockingbird, who exuded “moral courage, tolerance, and understanding,” evolved, Crespino asserts, from the portrayal in Watchman of a man who abided the “hypocrisy and injustice” of his own generation. Lee’s Atticus was himself transformed by Gregory Peck in a movie adaptation that underscored stalwart virtue.

An informed look at Southern history refracted through the lens of fiction.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5416-4494-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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