Beale Street is mostly a tourist trap now, but it was a place of “whorehouses, saloons, and bullet holes” not so long ago....

BEALE STREET DYNASTY

SEX, SONG, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL OF MEMPHIS

Excellent study of an iconic Southern place and the fraught, violent history behind it.

Many Americans have heard of W.C. Handy, but more as a practitioner of the blues than the serious student and entrepreneur that he was. Still more will likely have heard of Beale Street, the Memphis road that has put its mark on musical history—ethnic history, as well. Lauterbach (The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ’n’ Roll, 2011) opens with a race riot immediately following the Civil War, when it became directly clear to the African-Americans of the city that nothing had changed. The author locates the center of his tale in the beating heart of a light-skinned black man, Bob Church (“Church had dark, straight hair, bear-greased and parted, intense brown eyes, and beige skin. Nothing about him betrayed African heritage”), who surveyed the scene and organized his own city within a city. Not that Church was, strictly speaking, a philanthropist or altruist: The empire he founded included brothels, music halls that saw “the Memphis debut of the debauched dance known as the can-can,” and, in time, places where a man could buy all the cocaine, guns and whiskey he desired. The tightening racial oppression of Jim Crow, coming to full force in the 1890s, “had the somewhat paradoxical effect of strengthening black communities,” writes the author, and it was into this thriving milieu that Handy, “moving between worlds,” arrived and began to do his musicological work, setting the stage for the emergence of Memphis as a musical crossroads and center of jazz, blues, and, later, soul and R&B. In charting its rise, Lauterbach adds to the rich library devoted to the “old, weird America” established by writers such as Michael Ventura, Peter Guralnick and Greil Marcus.

Beale Street is mostly a tourist trap now, but it was a place of “whorehouses, saloons, and bullet holes” not so long ago. By Lauterbach’s illuminating account, the past was more fun—or at least more interesting.

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-08257-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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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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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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