An elegant, intensive study that grapples with an enormous idea: how to be good.




A multilayered, intimate look at what creates a “peace enclave” amid terrible violence.

Pursuing her research into how “even powerless-seeming people can find ways to resist the will of a violent state,” anthropologist and essayist Paxson (Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village, 2005) delved into Holocaust studies and ultimately focused on one peculiar region in France, Plateau Vivarais-Lignon. From the early centuries of religious war, when the region protected Protestants, to World War II, when there was a school of refugees sheltering hundreds of Jewish children, to today, when a thriving center for asylum-seekers houses innumerable refugees from places like Congo, Rwanda, and Chechnya, the cluster of villages possesses a remarkable history of “heroic altruism.” In order to tell the story of this extraordinary community, the author immersed herself in the history of the small rural area, somewhat isolated at 3,000 feet, full of farmers and sheep herders. Specifically, she absorbed the tragic wartime fate of Daniel Trocmé, who arrived to run a home for refugee children in the French backwoods in the fall of 1942. As he wrote to his parents, he wanted “to be part of the reconstruction of the world. I…wish not to be ashamed of myself.” Paxson is meticulous in her attention to fieldwork detail: the way people live, their language, the choices people make in times of violence when communities tend to close doors and “act in such a way as to maximize the best outcomes for ourselves.” Yet the opposite happened on the Plateau, where people sheltered the strangers as the Nazi occupiers made strangers enemies to be annihilated. The many layers in this engrossing, almost suspenseful work involve the author’s evolving relationships with the current refugee families at the asylum center, the revealing letters Trocmé sent to his family delineating his blooming personality and sense of purpose, and the author’s own growing determination in her research. Throughout, Paxson keeps asking questions and probing, never settling for assumptions.

An elegant, intensive study that grapples with an enormous idea: how to be good.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59463-475-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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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

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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