A bracingly provocative collection perfect for our times.

The award-winning novelist gathers eight essays that examine the meaning of citizenship in 21st-century America.

Drawing on history, politics, and her own personal experience, Lalami, a creative writing professor and American Book Award winner, explores the “contradictions between doctrine and reality” that problematize what it means to be an American. To make her points, she uses the concept of “conditional citizenship,” a state of partial (and revocable) acceptance/integration into American society based on factors such as race and faith. In the opening essay, “Allegiance,” Lalami writes about the frightening attitudinal changes she witnessed as a new Muslim American citizen in the wake of 9/11. Suddenly, the “slice of citizenship apple pie” she had been extended was withdrawn as hate crimes against law-abiding Muslim Americans spiked and presidential bans against certain nations eventually became a new normal. The author reminds readers how white supremacist attitudes have always existed by recalling the historical treatment of other nonwhite communities. In “Inheritance,” Lalami extends the concept of conditional citizenship to include not only nonwhites and non-Christians but also nonmales. Even in the U.S., women are often told to be grateful for the rights they have. The author convincingly argues that such attitudes “subtly discourage” women from achieving equality with men and accessing the full citizenship they deserve. In “Borders,” she goes on to emphasize the fragility of all American citizenship. She reveals how the U.S. has 136 internal checkpoints within 100 miles of its geographical borders and how the 200 million Americans living in those zones could be subject to deportation if they “fail to persuade [border patrol] agents” that they are citizens. While walls may seem to offer security, as Lalami points out, the climate change that “unfettered industrialization” has created will eventually render both walls and checkpoints useless. Consistently thoughtful and incisive, the book confronts the perils of our modern age with truths to inspire the coalition-building necessary to American cultural and democratic survival.

A bracingly provocative collection perfect for our times.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4716-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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