An amazing tale that is indeed “almost too strange to be true.”

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THE STRANGE CAREER OF WILLIAM ELLIS

THE TEXAS SLAVE WHO BECAME A MEXICAN MILLIONAIRE

A remarkable historical detective story that unearths the life and times of a “trickster” African-American who was able to “pass,” and strive spectacularly, as Latino.

During a time of deep racial anxiety in the United States—just after the Civil War and through the 1920s—the “color bar” was deeply pronounced and enforced in all aspects of society, from travel to public establishments to housing to marriage. Jacoby (History/Columbia Univ.; Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History, 2008, etc.) delves minutely into this unsettling history of racial relations through the life of nimble businessman William Henry Ellis, aka Guillermo Enrique Eliseo—born in 1864 to biracial slaves in Victoria, Texas—whose olive skin and facility with Spanish allowed him to move freely between the porous U.S.–Mexico border and reinvent himself in an extraordinary manner. Ellis’ ability to pass as Mexican or Cuban (or even Hawaiian) while on business above and below the border is only one facet of this fascinating story. He rode in first-class cars, stayed at length in the British-owned Hotel Gillow in Mexico City, built a trading firm on Wall Street, and married a white woman. Ellis was surely a kind of confidence man, but he was also a crusader for his race and became embroiled in Republican politics in the 1880s, cooking up a scheme to recolonize African-American tenant farmers from the cotton-picking South to a huge tract of land in northern Mexico during a time of profound labor shortages in Mexico, where racial relations were far less fraught than in America. Jacoby imparts important, unknown aspects of Mexican-American history and does a stellar feat of research in weaving together this fragmented life as just one incredible example of the American experience in all its complexity and ingenuity.

An amazing tale that is indeed “almost too strange to be true.”

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-23925-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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