An affecting portrait of post-apartheid South Africa, particularly useful for writing instructors serving at-risk...

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THE BORN FREES

WRITING WITH THE GIRLS OF GUGULETHU

Journalist Burge recounts a sojourn in a township outside Cape Town working with a writing group called Amazw’Entombi, or “Voices of the Girls.”

The “Born Frees” of the title are the first generation of black South Africans born after 1994, when the apartheid regime of old had fallen and Nelson Mandela had been elected the nation’s first black president. These young people, she writes, “were inheriting a country awash in contradictions.” Its constitution was among the most progressive in the world, prohibiting discrimination on every axis and mandating gender equality. Yet, Burge notes, the abuse of women is endemic: “More than a third of girls have experienced sexual violence before the age of eighteen,” she writes, while young women are particularly at risk of contracting HIV. The writing club she founded was not a development project as such, Burge writes, but was a means of providing community, empowerment, and a voice. As one of the participants puts it, “To me, writing is me. / It is me listening / to what I have to say...to what my heart says.” Nonetheless, it touched on other development projects in its parent church, including close work with HIV/AIDS and food distribution services. Some girls who lived in overcrowded nuclear or foster households went hungry, since food went to children by blood first. This was a manifestation of a phenomenon called “partial parenting,” in which households are generally fatherless and with mothers absent because of work, so that children are raised by grandmothers, aunts, or friends—the result being a generation of children hungry for attention and thus bursting with the need to express themselves. But not, Burge sagely notes, the need to be rescued: “I didn’t go into Gugulethu to rescue these girls. They did not need me, or anyone, to save them.”

An affecting portrait of post-apartheid South Africa, particularly useful for writing instructors serving at-risk constituencies.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-23916-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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