CULTURE OF COMPLAINT

THE FRAYING OF AMERICA

It's hard not to be stirred up and entertained by the three jeremiad-essays Hughes (Barcelona, 1992, etc.) offers here. He goes scatter-shooting at cows with very broad sides: “the American talent for the twin fetishes of victimhood and redemption”; the PC academy (“ ‘The Canon,’ that oppressive Big Bertha whose muzzle is trained...at the black, the gay, and the female. The Canon, we're told, is a list of books by dead Europeans—Shakespeare and Dante and Tolstoy...you know them, the pale patriarchal penis people”); postmodern architects (“the pediment-quoting Ralph Laurens of their profession”); Jean-Michel Basquiat (“the black Chatterton of the 80's”). Hughes deplores the “multi-culti” scam of a cultural establishment unwilling to stand up to the Jesse Helms-types and thus retreating into an homogenization that doles out quality to all so that none will rise too high to be chopped down. But real European- or Australian-style multiculturalism, he argues, is of great benefit—a haunting of one culture by another, an enrichening. So far so good (if glitzy: for Time's art-critic, there's no idea whose subtlety can't be sacrificed for a clever line). But the swaggering postures Hughes assumes all over the room are convincing only in the brightest-lit corners. He does a little historical background for his best point—that art for Americans has always been a therapeutic activity—but elsewhere hardly a background is shaded in. The problematics behind our melding of cultures, behind a moral issue such as abortion, or underlying formalism and shock-aesthetics—these Hughes avoids drilling into deeply. Mostly, it seems, he's writing to the small, disenchanted section of the same go-go cultural guild he bewails; in such tight company, he has to do little more than press journalistic hot buttons cleverly. Not since John Gardner's On Moral Fiction (1978) have we had such a pellet-gun shower of right-wing leftism, back-to-basics positivism—and like Gardner's, it settles down more as vanitas than veritas.

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-19-507676-1

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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