Yep, there’s gold in them thar hills—but lots of dross as well. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)




Freelance travel-writer Petro journeys through Appalachia and the Deep South to visit storytellers and record their tales, with uneven results.

The author divides her text into four “journeys,” automobile trips she took from her Rhode Island home into the South, “a famously talky place.” Between jaunts, she returns to New England for brief sojourns to do laundry and think. “First Journey” begins, appropriately enough, at the home of Joel Chandler Harris in Atlanta, where she hears a storyteller named Akbar Imhotep relate the tale of Brer Rabbit and the tar baby. Then it’s off to Florida (she sees the memorial to Rosewood, a black town razed by whites in 1922), then back to Georgia, where she meets Vickie Vedder, a storyteller who remains a presence principally through e-mails, several of which Petro reproduces at eye-glazing length. When not repeating stories, the writer expatiates on tornado warnings, kudzu, race, snake-handling (she includes a fabulously eerie story about rattlesnakes), motels, chigger bites, Gullah, and ghosts. A few tales appear without interruption, but others are paraphrased, interrupted, modified, or otherwise adumbrated by Petro. Some moments dazzle. She talks with a black woman for three hours before discovering the woman is blind; she tells the bizarre (and implausible) story of a woman born with a blackberry birthmark that darkens each year as the fruit ripens. Most dazzling of all is the intrepid author. She drives deep into the woods, visits the homes of the odd and the eerie, engages anyone and everyone in conversation about stories and storytelling, endeavors to elicit from the reluctant some words of wisdom. Alas, not all stories are created equal, and weirdness alone seldom suffices. More than a few of the tales are lifeless (they beg to be heard, not read), and some of Petro’s epiphanies never advance beyond banal.

Yep, there’s gold in them thar hills—but lots of dross as well. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55970-612-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2002

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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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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 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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