CROSSING BORDERS

AN AMERICAN WOMAN IN THE MIDDLE EAST

A fiction writer who taught in Saudi Arabia and Egypt for five years in the 1980s recounts her experiences with balance, if not literary excitement. While Caesar notes relevant international events (e.g., the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the American bombing of Libya) and her romance with and marriage to an Egyptian colleague, she devotes her chapters to delineating characteristics of the cultures in which she lived. Topics range from intricacies of women's dress to Egyptian tribal beliefs about marriage to faulty Western press coverage of the Middle East to the accepted mistreatment of foreign-born housemaids. Throughout, Caesar successfully interweaves her students' comments on the Western books she teaches to shed light on both the Middle East and Western assumptions. Most effective are her account of the teaching of A Passage to India, which leads to class discussions of the moral blind spots fostered by political power (``shame societies and shameless societies,'' a student says), and Caesar's later ruminations on the US victory in Iraq and the World Trade Center bombing trial. In nearly every chapter Caesar observes, raises questions, and recedes as a character. This combination, plus the many incompletely developed supporting characters, results in a low-key, occasionally uninvolving tale, lacking the self-scrutiny of fine memoirs. But her persistence in examining and questioning Western and Middle Eastern cultures, and her believable embrace of some of the latter's elements and people, are what remain in mind when the book is done. She takes readers to what she calls ``a different world'' and helps them better understand and appreciate it—to see Cairo, for example, as she does, ``evolving naturally out of itself for thousands of years, influenced by other cultures without becoming an artificial imitation of them.'' Parts of this volume have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor and elsewhere. A warm, modest work that makes compassion seem simple.

Pub Date: June 20, 1997

ISBN: 0-8156-2735-1

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Syracuse Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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