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: Aug. 4, 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 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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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