Warmly human and extremely moving—a welcome addition to the Ellis Island literature.

ELLIS ISLAND

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY

A Polish journalist chronicles the history of America’s famed immigration station through the stories of individuals who worked there or passed through on their way to a new life.

In an afterword, Szejnert notes that she wrote this account after discovering that there were no books about Ellis Island available in Polish, but her people-centered narrative fills an English-language gap as well. Making extensive use of primary documents, including letters written by immigrants to family in the old country, the author captures the mingled hope and fear experienced as people entered the massive main building, equipped with modern accoutrements few had seen in their ancestral villages, and faced numerous bureaucratic barriers. Quotes from John Weber, the first Commissioner of Immigration at the Port of New York, and his successors make palpable the massive logistical effort required to process all these people—more than 1 million in the peak year 1907—and the officials’ commendable determination to do it fairly, efficiently, and humanely. Szejnert does not scant the fear of “degraded, backward” people “unfit to join into American life” that culminated in the 1924 law that basically slammed the door on Italian and Jewish immigration. But her emphasis is on the immigrants’ fortitude and resilience and the empathetic assistance of Ellis Island personnel—many themselves immigrants, such as interpreter Francesco Martoccia and social worker Cecilia Greenstone, one of several redoubtable matrons charged with protecting female immigrants from human trafficking. Szejnert reveals countless intriguing historical tidbits: the luggage room with space for 12,000 passengers’ bags, sick immigrants required to wash who “had never seen a bathtub and…were afraid to get in the water.” The author also evokes the island’s ghostly atmosphere after it was abandoned in 1954 and the determined efforts that led to its triumphant 1990 reopening as a museum, visited by 2 million people each year.

Warmly human and extremely moving—a welcome addition to the Ellis Island literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-950354-05-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scribe

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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