NOT BY THE SWORD by Kathryn Watterson


How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman
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 A moving, though overlong, account of the triumph of patience and tolerance over bigotry. Based on a remarkable series of events that transpired in Lincoln, Neb., in the early 1990s, this book by journalist Watterson chronicles the transformation of Larry Trapp, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan of Nebraska. Trapp, the product of a terribly abusive childhood and a number of years in institutions, assumed a leadership role in reviving Klan activities in Nebraska. Handicapped and confined to a wheelchair, he spent his considerable energies on disseminating hate literature, leaving obscene messages on the phone machines of civil rights activists, and planning attacks on members of minorities who moved into Lincoln. When Cantor Michael Weisser and his wife, Julie, decided to respond to Trapp's harassment by offering him help of the most basic kind-- help with shopping and getting around--he was initially spiteful and wary. But he was also touched by the offer. Though well narrated, the story of how this developing and uneasy friendship led Trapp to renounce his ties to the Klan and eventually convert to Judaism is muddled by a plethora of uplifting quotes from inspirational literature, giving the account a New Age flavor. Towards the end of the book we learn that the cantor and his wife have also undergone remarkable personal recoveries from abuse and emotional deprivation, which clarifies their ability to bring about a transformation in Trapp. His conversion to Judaism is not easily accepted by some members of the Weissers' congregation (``forgiving your enemy is one thing, but letting him become a member of your family is another,'' says one temple member). Trapp dies soon after his conversion ceremony, and his very moving funeral--attended by many of the individuals whom he attacked--is the book's closing scene. This story received considerable media attention in 1992; for those who missed it, Watterson tells it in historical and social context--a bit too much so.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-671-86893-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1995