A revelatory exploration of the meaning of blackness.




A family’s story reflects African Americans’ struggle for survival.

Driven by a need to understand her own identity, cultural critic Jerkins mounted an investigation into her family’s tangled history, recounting in this candid memoir the surprising discoveries that emerged from her emotional journey. Like many African Americans, her ancestors fled the South—and oppression from the Ku Klux Klan and police—some settling in the Northeast, others in California, disrupting their ties to their cultural and spiritual heritage. “No one spoke about the past—the goal was to move forward and never look back,” she writes.” This silence, though, frustrated Jerkins, leading to a search “to excavate the connective tissue that complicates but unites us as a people, and to piece together the story of how I came to be by going back and looking beyond myself.” Traveling to Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Los Angeles, she traced her lineage, seeking answers to questions that had bothered her throughout her life: Why, for example, was she taught to be afraid of water? Why did her family believe in conjuring, spells, and hoodoo? And, critical to her sense of self, why was she so light skinned, a trait that raised others’ curiosity, as if a child with lighter skin than her parents “was an aberration in the natural order of things.” Everything she learned underscored the power of white supremacy in the U.S. She found out that although the Jerkins family grew up near water, it was not necessarily a conduit to freedom but, more ominously, a place where blacks were drowned. On the lush resort island of Hilton Head, she realized that “beautiful landscapes masked black carnage.” From a historian, she was dismayed to learn the prevalence of black slave owners: “In 1830, in twenty-four states…there were 3,775 black owners of 12,760 slaves.” Although her search sometimes proved unsettling, in the end, Jerkins was able to “tease out the interwoven threads of who I am as a black woman.”

A revelatory exploration of the meaning of blackness.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-287304-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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