Gessen is a Suetonius for our time, documenting the death of the old America while holding out slim hope for its restoration.

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SURVIVING AUTOCRACY

The National Book Award winner delivers a handbook for an age in which egomania is morphing into autocracy at warp speed.

New Yorker contributor Gessen, an immigrant from what was then the Soviet Union, understands totalitarian systems, especially the ways in which, under totalitarian rule, language is degraded into meaninglessness. Today, writes the author, we are “using the language of political disagreement, judicial procedure, or partisan discussion to describe something that was crushing the system that such terminology was invented to describe.” Against that, Gessen suggests, we now have an administration for which words hold no reality, advancing the idea that “alternative facts” are fine but professing dismay when one calls them lies. The step-by-step degradation of democratic institutions that follows is a modern-day rejoinder to the fact that more than half a dozen years separated the Reichstag fire from World War II. That’s a big buffer of time in which to admit all manner of corruption, and all manner of corruption is what we’ve been seeing: Gessen reminds us about Mick Mulvaney’s accepting handsome gifts from the payday-loan industry he was supposed to regulate and Ben Carson’s attempt to stock his office with a $31,000 dining-room set. Yet corruption’s not the right word, writes the author, since Trump and company are quite open and even boastful about what used to be a matter of shame and duplicity. The real tragedy, it seems, is that they have been so successful in creating what the author calls a “new, smaller American society,” one that willfully excludes the Other. Many writers have chronicled the Trump administration’s missteps and crimes, but few as concisely as Gessen, and her book belongs on the shelf alongside Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny and Amy Siskind’s The List as a record of how far we have fallen.

Gessen is a Suetonius for our time, documenting the death of the old America while holding out slim hope for its restoration.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-18893-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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