“The only thing Islamism can dominate, for now, is the evening news,” Amis concludes in good fighting spirit. His book fires...

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THE SECOND PLANE

SEPTEMBER 11: TERROR AND BOREDOM

Fourteen essays on the theme that “our understanding of September 11 is incremental and can never hope to be intact and entire.”

Islamism (Islamic fascism to some, Islamofascism to others), notes the ever-provocative British novelist and essayist Amis (House of Meetings, 2007, etc.), may be associated with Saudi Arabia, but it had its modern origins in Greeley, Colo., in 1949. “The story is grotesque and incredible,” he writes, “but then so are its consequences.” One of those curious consequences, familiar to anyone who has experienced war, terror or extreme stress, is boredom, for in such endeavors when one is not scared witless there is by definition not much going on. The war against Islamist terror has, Amis hazards, an especially boring additional component, our presumed inability to begin to communicate with “a mind with which we share no discourse.” Amis’s alignment as a self-described “Islamismophobe” puts him in a similar orbit with sometime friend and sometime rival Christopher Hitchens, save that, unlike Hitchens, Amis does not support the war in Iraq, as one of the pieces, an in-flight interview with Tony Blair, makes clear. (But then, that interview hints, Blair didn’t much like the war either.) Amis is rather less blustery than Hitchens; one piece is a surprisingly empathetic attempt to get inside 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta’s mind. As always, Amis proves eminently readable, his observations enlightening. Who other would ascribe to Kuwait City an “almost artistic cheerlessness” that speaks to the deadening touch of women-hating fundamentalism “under a sinister mist of damp dust”? Amis may not make any friends among the PC set, but he makes clear and inarguable the fact that the Islamist enemy is an enemy of reason, just like Hitler and Stalin.

“The only thing Islamism can dominate, for now, is the evening news,” Amis concludes in good fighting spirit. His book fires a welcome, left-tending salvo.

Pub Date: April 4, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4454-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2008

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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