MAN IN THE MIRROR: John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me by Robert Bonazzi

MAN IN THE MIRROR: John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me

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An earnest, adulatory discussion of the classic exposâ of racism and the memorable life of its author, John Howard Griffin. Bonazzi, who published some of Griffin's writings at his Latitudes Press and is possibly the world's only Griffin scholar, deserves credit for explaining, albeit briefly, the fascinating events that shaped Griffin's character as a crusader against racism. Born in Dallas in 1920, Griffin extricated himself from his provincial surroundings by writing to a boys' school in Tours, France, and receiving a full scholarship at age 15. He stayed in France for the next six years, first at school and then, after the Nazi occupation, working with the Resistance to help save Jews. A stint in the air force brought him into contact with Solomon Islanders, dashing what few southern preconceptions about white superiority he still harbored; and a bombardment blinded him for ten years. Back home, he converted to Catholicism and wrote a bestselling novel, The Devil Rides Outside. In 1959, he hit on the idea of darkening his skin and touting the Deep South disguised as a black man for a magazine series that became Black Like Me, published in 1961 to wide acclaim. The bulk of Bonazzi's tome is a summary of that work, with copious quotes from Griffin's own words, which remind one of just how skillful a prose stylist he was. Bonazzi's glosses tend merely to rephrase clumsily what Griffin has just been quoted saying with perfect clarity. In quoting from other of Griffin's works and playing up his intellectually rigorous Catholicism (he was friends with Thomas Merton and Jacques Maritain), Bonazzi places Black Like Me within a lifelong quest to understand and share with others his religious ideals of humanitarianism and mercy. Still, readers will probably be sorely tempted to toss this aside and go straight to Black Like Me to get the insights without the interruptions.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
Page count: 206pp
Publisher: Orbis