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A WORLD OUT OF REACH

DISPATCHES FROM LIFE UNDER LOCKDOWN

If only our response to the pandemic on other fronts could have been as speedy and potent as this literary one.

The difficult spring of 2020, as chronicled by scholars, poets, essayists, and others in the Yale Review.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic, this collection, put together from the March, April, and May issues of the Review’s "Pandemic Files," seeks to "encapsulate both the inexpressible grief of our moment and the possibility for change and reflection held within it." Editor O'Rourke assembles the work of 36 authors from a wide range of backgrounds. The contributors write not just about the lockdown, but also medicine and epidemiology, the Black Lives Matter protests, the border wall, the contemporary relevance of Thucydides and Boccaccio's Decameron, and how "modern North American history begins with an infectious disease crisis.” Russell Morse, a New York public defender, movingly documents his vigorous but largely doomed attempts to help "the most vulnerable among us," the incarcerated and the homeless. Among the poets represented are Victoria Chang, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Monica Ferrell, and their emotional firepower is matched by a number of strong personal essays. Briallen Hopper, a creative writing professor who lives in Elmhurst, Queens, "a global COVID-19 epicenter" where "the sirens never stop,” mourns the terrible impact of the virus on her blue-collar neighborhood. Rachel Jamison Webster remembers her aunt, who "arrived in my life exactly when I needed her, when I was afraid I would never escape my conventional upbringing." Is it the right time to read this book? One answer is given by recent Yale graduate Meghana Mysore, quoting Yiyun Li—"Rarely does a story start where we wish it had, or end where we wish it would"—and adding her own pertinent thought: "But somewhere in all the chaos is a story, if we are given time to see it." Other contributors include Katie Kitamura, John Fabian Witt, Nell Freudenberger, Randi Hutter Epstein, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips.

If only our response to the pandemic on other fronts could have been as speedy and potent as this literary one.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25735-9

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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