A pertinent, you-are-there historical page-turner with a strong moral message.



Gripping re-creation of the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Former Atlanta magazine editor Burns (Rage in the Gate City: The Story of the 1906 Race Riot, 2006, etc.) originally addressed the subject of MLK’s funeral in a 2008 oral history for the magazine. In this brief yet effective narrative, she provides a snapshot of a still-segregated nation poised between uneasy reconciliation and violent chaos. Using terse language and precise, straightforward descriptions—nearly every person who appears is extensively footnoted, a shrewd tactic because it enlivens the obscure and famous alike—she views the crisis and aftermath of King’s death in Memphis through multiple points of view, beginning with the traumatic center of his family and closest associates in Atlanta. Simultaneously, she argues that the white power structure in the city, personified by Mayor Ivan Allen, the police chief and others, behaved with compassion and foresight. Consequently, a fragile coalition managed the funeral and allowed the city to avoid the racial violence then occurring in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Burns follows the perspectives of multiple figures through the days following the assassination, from Lyndon Johnson on down. Numerous people poured into the tense city, including Robert Kennedy and celebrities like Harry Belafonte. The author evokes the funeral as a cathartic ritual of controlled chaos, and the documentary style also captures the inevitable fracturing of King’s movement, starting with the controversial Poor People’s Campaign, with which he was deeply involved. Arguably, the King family’s dignity in response to tragedy, and the somber televised spectacle of King’s funeral, helped convince many Americans that full civil rights were past due.

A pertinent, you-are-there historical page-turner with a strong moral message.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-3054-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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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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