Smart, angry immersive journalism from an author who warrants wider readership on this side of the border.

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A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

LIVING AND DYING IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Hard-hitting exploration of the violence visited by globalization and the narco-economy upon Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Human Rights Prize–winning journalist Martínez (The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, 2013) follows up his grisly, underdiscussed debut investigation of human trafficking with a similarly unflinching account of the circumstances and communities involved in the ongoing migrant crisis. “I want you to understand what thousands of Central Americans are going through,” he writes. The author argues that the American expulsion of first-generation Mara Salvatrucha and other Central American refugee gangs led to the violent groups’ expansion back home: “What the United States has tried to flush away has rather multiplied.” Simultaneously, Mexican cartels (notably the brutal Los Zetas) firmed up their transshipment routes through these countries’ rural, impoverished regions; this conjunction has resulted in the highest murder rates in the hemisphere, in areas where law enforcement is undersupported and easily corrupted. Martínez draws readers into this complex narrative by alternating between a panoramic social sweep and the beleaguered lives of civilians, victims, gang members, and cops, capturing the multilayered nature of a place whose indigenous traditions are being brutalized by modern criminals who commit murder casually. The punchy short chapters capture shocking tableaux of violence in distanced, nearly wry prose, with some characters and crimes recurring. The author follows one hardened gangster who’s obsessed with his own inevitable murder: “It’s clear that El Nino was recognized in the town as someone destined to die.” Absurdity is captured in the account of investigators facing the Sisyphean task of excavating a rural well known to be packed with corpses. Martínez returns to his earlier topic, portraying the cruelty of the migrant experience: “What you think is stupid sitting at home can be the most logical thing in the world on the trails.”

Smart, angry immersive journalism from an author who warrants wider readership on this side of the border.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78478-168-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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

NIGHT

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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