So engaging that readers will crave a sequel: Belafonte since the ’70s?



The rise of the once-popular singer and actor (b. 1927) who used his celebrity and suasion to aid liberal causes.

Few books have a more accurate title and subtitle than this one. Smith (American Studies/Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960, 2004, etc.) focuses sharply on Belafonte’s background: his boyhood in Harlem, early departure from high school, stint in the segregated U.S. Navy, experiences with Jim Crow (which outraged him) and eventual decision to become an actor in New York. Smith periodically reminds us of Belafonte’s friendship with singer/actor/political activist Paul Robeson, who served as mentor for the young man and whom Belafonte continues to credit. The author also shows how Belafonte, discouraged that there were so few acting opportunities for black performers, moved toward music, a career for which he’d had no formal training or real experience. But he had talent. He had colleagues and mentors ranging from Charlie Parker to folksingers of the 1940s and ’50s: Lead Belly, Josh White, Pete Seeger and others. As Smith points out repeatedly, Belafonte also had an electrifying stage presence and a steamy sexuality that soon rocketed him into popularity. He devoted himself to human rights causes throughout his career, using his celebrity and evincing no fear that he would hurt himself financially. He became an intimate of Martin Luther King Jr. and used his unusual (for the time) access to TV and movies to promote his agenda. Smith gives us plenty of detail about his movies (the good, bad and ugly), his recordings, his relationships with women, and his battles with the ugly racial status quo in 1950s and ’60s America.

So engaging that readers will crave a sequel: Belafonte since the ’70s?

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-292-72914-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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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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