Kirkus Star


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Mr. Garbus, an ACLU lawyer, has selected five cases in which he represented not only losers and lost causes but live coal issues which illustrate in graphic terms how our laws have not kept up with the urgent demands of our society or, still more basically, justice qua justice. In Mississippi he defended Mrs. Henrietta Wright, a black woman who went to register to vote and was jailed on false charges, brutalized by six men, and routed on to a state mental hospital. Lenny Bruce's obscenity trial would hopefully prove that ""if a work had any value at all, it could not be considered obscene."" This one has the strongest human drama since Bruce was tortured by the legal process itself, since there were long pauses over the spellings and meanings of words like ""putz"" or ""mezuzah,"" since Dorothy Kilgallen came on as the surprise witness competing against Marya Mannes, and since Bruce's last frenetic, frustrated plea went unheard. Then there's the case of Mrs. Sylvester Smith vs. Ruben King and George Wallace (and the state of Alabama) entailing the rights of a black woman on welfare voided by the (ira)moral question of the 'substitute father' -- namely, none at all; the unconstitutionality of the death penalty as exercised in the manslaughter committed by a young drug addict attempting to get a fix, and the mad multiple murderer Frederick Charles Wood wire wanted to die: and finally Timothy Leary's thirty-year sentence based on half an ounce of marijuana. There's none of Kunstler's self-advertising assertiveness in Mr. Garbus, and no legal circuitousness -- the book has the direct impact of his convictions. It is also sharp, stirring and on occasion racking.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1971
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux