They may have been invisible men to their patrons, but Tye makes the case for the porters as revolutionary elements within...

RISING FROM THE RAILS

PULLMAN PORTERS AND THE MAKING OF THE BLACK MIDDLE CLASS

A reasoned assessment of the Pullman porters’ role in black America.

The Pullman porter’s life, reporter/biographer Tye (Home Lands, 2001, etc.) suggests, was “a capsule of space and time where all the rules of racial engagement came into succinct and, at times, painful focus.” He goes on to document the nearly limitless humiliation porters underwent every day—so much so, he writes, that they learned to don a mask at work that could be removed when their shift was done, to maintain their dignity by assuming a countenance that was not their own. Exposed to virulent racism in “one of the most thoroughly segregated workplaces in America,” they became critical sparks in the civil-rights movement. On the other hand, porters led a more cosmopolitan and (relatively) privileged life than most African-Americans, especially during the early years of the Pullman coach. They drew salaries and they traveled, garnering news and ideas from the four corners of the country, serving as agents of change within their communities as they brought home everything from jazz to seditious ideas. Their union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was a unique and powerful institution. On the complex issue of identity, the author lets the porters speak for themselves about the contrast between their status within their neighborhoods as worldly, respected men and their subordinate position at work: “It was degrading to have to ingratiate themselves to win tips, they say, and more degrading not to get any . . . the line between selling oneself and maximizing tips—that is, between slavery and economic freedom—was very thin.”

They may have been invisible men to their patrons, but Tye makes the case for the porters as revolutionary elements within black society. (40 b&w halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: July 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-8050-7075-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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