Through dialect and detail, Cabral makes it easy to see both the Old World and the New through an immigrant’s eyes.

THE WORLD BEYOND THE PALE

ONE LIFE BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

A straightforward romanticization of the Jewish immigrant experience, from shtetl to tenement.

Cabral (Islands of Recall, 2007, etc.) delves into the life of the poor and struggling on two continents. A hardworking Jewish family lives in the Pale of Settlement, a region in Poland established by Catherine the Great for the confinement of her Jewish subjects. Though life isn’t easy or comfortable, the Rebakh family finds solace in one another. However, the eldest daughter, Esther, finds that her heart lies outside the family unit with Chaim, the son of a not-quite-trustworthy storekeeper. When the Czar conscripts Chaim into the army (a veritable death sentence for most soldiers), he flees to America, promising to use Esther’s substantial dowry to prepare a new life for his bride-to-be. Esther follows him some time later and discovers that the land of opportunity can also be the land of hardship and heartbreak. The eyes of the sheltered girl from the shtetl are opened through discussions of anarchy, politics and unionization. Cabral doesn’t delve too deeply into Esther’s psyche; rather, she uses the character as a vehicle to examine the joy and despair of those who traveled to America at the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, Esther begins working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where locked doors and a carelessly tossed cigarette result in a tragic end for many underpaid employees. Cabral’s sensitive, shocking description of that event, with women and men jumping from the building to avoid being burned alive—and even mercifully helping others hasten death—is unforgettable. This easy read, with its shades of Fiddler on the Roof marriage bartering and Ragtime industrialization, is both fluid and rich with history, but it’s the vivid depiction of tragedy that truly makes it worth reading.

Through dialect and detail, Cabral makes it easy to see both the Old World and the New through an immigrant’s eyes.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-1462064205

Page Count: 260

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2012

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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