An affectionate, probing cultural portrait, as stark as it is entertaining.

A DEATH IN BRAZIL

A BOOK OF OMISSIONS

Under intellectual scrutiny from a part-time resident, the world’s fifth largest country comes alive as “the oddest and most thrilling” in our hemisphere.

Readers who pick this up expecting a travel guide will have to look beyond open sewers befouling pristine beaches and bags of garbage flung from apartment windows into the street where urchins sleep in cardboard boxes—and those are the lucky ones—to find Brazil’s real allure. But Robb (M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio, 2000, etc.) does find it, and it runs sensuously deep and mysterious. The biggest mystery: Why is a country of such beautiful people with such variegated lushness still constantly gashed by violence, cruelty, and corruption? The source, Robb offers, is a gap between richest and poorest “six times greater than countries like China, India, and Pakistan” and perhaps unequaled anywhere. He tracks Brazil’s culture of concentrated personal power and wealth from the colonial era, finding a strain of conspiratorial racism perversely at odds with a society where slavery was officially banned in 1888 and racial mixing has been energetically pursued for half a millennium. His “researches,” which include an attempt (after a few Scotches in a bar) to confront a political thug suspected of several murders, reveal how a government deformed by influence peddling, corruption, and a menacing military has managed to ignore the most basic needs of traditionally disenfranchised constituents. Robb, however, views current President Lula da Silva as something of a messiah in a country where pursuit of sensual pleasures and a big lunch has thus far thwarted development of a public conscience. Fortunately for adventurous readers, a researcher of mysteries also has to take time to nourish body and soul with things like grilled needlefish or the sumptuous polyglot bean stew called feijoada, washed down with Antarctic beer chilled to the point of freezing.

An affectionate, probing cultural portrait, as stark as it is entertaining.

Pub Date: May 5, 2004

ISBN: 0-8050-7641-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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