Lucid and original—of considerable interest to students of the African-American diaspora and American social and cultural...

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WAYWARD LIVES, BEAUTIFUL EXPERIMENTS

INTIMATE HISTORIES OF SOCIAL UPHEAVAL

A provocative study of urban African-American women a century and more ago.

Characterizing her work as an “account of the wayward,” literary scholar Hartman (English/Columbia Univ.; Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, 2007, etc.) examines the many ways in which (mostly) young black women tried to live their lives within the confines of new urban enclaves such as Harlem and West Philadelphia, from which Italian and Jewish immigrants had moved on and into which newcomers from the South were streaming. The population, writes the author, was young and in many cases disproportionately female, with liberating follow-on consequences. In one Philadelphia area, for instance, “more than half the women in the ward were single, widowed, or separated, and this imperiled the newly fledged black family”—imperiled it because so many of those unencumbered women were determined to live on their own terms, having begun a journey to freedom that was ongoing. They faced formidable resistance within their own communities even as they willingly took on new roles: “In bed,” Hartman writes of one lesbian couple, “it seemed like it was only the two of them in the world, in the vast stillness of the deep of night. In the few hours before dusk, there were no husbands to fear.” The author populates her pages with reformatory inmates, reformers, sex workers, and political activists such as Harlem Renaissance figure Claude McKay, “known less well for his indiscretions than for the ease and facility with which he cloaked them.” Sometimes Hartman’s rhetoric becomes a touch too high-flown, as if swept up in the exuberance of the fight for freedom, and interrogatives sometimes threaten to overwhelm declarative sentences. However, close attention to “beautiful experiments” and “the sexual geography of the black belt,” as two section titles have it, yield new insight into the truth of a central proposition: “No modern intelligent person was content merely existing. Sometimes it was good to take a chance.”

Lucid and original—of considerable interest to students of the African-American diaspora and American social and cultural history.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-28567-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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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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