From former M.L.A. president Baker (English and Black Studies/University of Pennsylvania): four essays in defense of Black Studies and rap that tend to grow muddled and slip from your grasp. ``Black Studies: A New Story'' offers a superficial glance at what brought Black Studies into being (``What was required...was a revocabularization of academic discourse'') and at how the new discipline was greeted by the establishment (``What generally occurred...was moral panic as a function of territorial contestation''). In ``The Black Urban Beat: Rap and the Law,'' Baker sees rap as a way ``to provide sometimes stunning territorial confrontations between black urban expressivity and white law-and- order.'' This last being arguably a false dichotomy doesn't keep Baker from concluding—after a faintly unified meditation on urban space, rappers 2 Live Crew, and the Central Park jogger case—that ``Positive sites of rap represent...a profitable, agential resource for an alternative American legality.'' Meaning becomes increasingly obscured as the essays move on and Baker hides behind yet more words. The uncertain merits of 2 Live Crew are little clarified by his assertion that the group ``is less a causal site of agency than a single point of imbrication in an intricate social (and preeminently materialist) narrative.'' Rap, Baker concludes (``Hybridity, Rap, and Pedagogy for the 1990s''), ``is now classical black sound,'' but the claim isn't strengthened by the sound of the essayist's own reasoning—as in the following parenthetical definition en route to his conclusion: ``By postmodern I intend the nonauthoritative collaging or archiving of sound and styles that bespeaks a deconstructive hybridity. Linearity and progress yield to a dizzying synchronicity.'' Ideas worth hearing—and knowing—more about. But, on balance, Baker offers here a float across jargon-choked shallows.

Pub Date: June 15, 1993

ISBN: 0-226-03520-4

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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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

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

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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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