DEATH WITHOUT WEEPING

THE VIOLENCE OF EVERYDAY LIFE IN BRAZIL

A shattering portrayal of life among the impoverished inhabitants of Alto do Cruzeiro (``Hill of the Crucifixion''), a shantytown in the city of Bom Jesus da Mata in northeastern Brazil's Pernambuco Province. Scheper-Hughes (Anthropology/UC at Berkeley), whose 1979 Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics (not reviewed) won the Margaret Mead Award, has again produced a work of enormous power and importance. Alto do Cruzeiro is well named: Life in its fetid alleyways and smoke-filled mud-and-sheet-metal huts is a perpetual Golgotha where poverty, malnutrition, and terrorism make death and ``disappearances'' commonplace—and where, in 1987, the infant and child mortality rate reached more than 23 percent of total births. Scheper-Hughes, who first came to the area as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1960's and who has returned again and again, focuses most of her attention on the women of the Alto. Bringing an unusual sensitivity to her research and couching her findings in prose that is at once subtle and precise, she urges ``a more `womanly' anthropology,'' one that engages ``questions of human relationships and ethics.'' The author explores the social, economic, political, and religious factors—the plantation system's exploitation of the workers; governmental corruption and indifference; superstition; the hidebound conservatism of the Roman Catholic hierarchy—that contribute to the inhumane conditions. In what is undoubtedly her most controversial conclusion, Scheper- Hughes contends that the uncertainty of existence within the ghetto community atrophies impoverished women's feelings of what is thought in more stable Western societies to be an inherent female trait—``mother love.'' The author makes a strong case for this finding, which undoubtedly will provoke heated discussion. A stimulating, consistently engrossing contribution to the scientific understanding of a complex and tragic situation. (Sixty- five b&w photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: May 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-520-07536-6

Page Count: 587

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1992

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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