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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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