A searing exposé of corporate criminality and its governmental enablers.

THE GREAT ESCAPE

A TRUE STORY OF FORCED LABOR AND IMMIGRANT DREAMS IN AMERICA

Harrowing account of a latter-day revolt of people who were essentially enslaved—in 21st-century America.

Following Hurricane Katrina, the shipbuilding steelyards of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast needed welders and pipe fitters. India had many such workers, and a local so-called immigration lawyer teamed up with a couple of recruiters, one a former police officer, and, for a hefty fee, promised green cards to anyone who traveled to America. As immigrant rights activist Soni writes, one of those workers, who had spent years as a laborer in the United Arab Emirates, saw through the scheme, realizing that “any seasoned migrant worker knew that America let in only those with elite educations.” Still, with promised wages approaching $54,000 per year, he bit, landing in a work camp where the pay was not as promised, the food was execrable, and the treatment of workers was straight out of the antebellum South, complete with an updated version of a slave catcher. Said one overseer, “Our Indians have been dropping with sickness like flies.” Because the workers’ complaints were ignored, some decided to orchestrate the “great escape” of Soni’s title and, with the author’s help, organized a protest that took them on a march on Washington to demand justice. Writing with a sharp sense of irony, Soni recounts how the Department of Justice flubbed the initial investigations while Immigrations and Customs Enforcement actively colluded with the Mississippi shipbuilders against the workers. Soni and the workers hit plenty of dead ends as they tried to enlist the support of the liberal lions on Capitol Hill since “we were stuck in the minds of their congressional staffers as another ‘Interest group.’ ” In the end, even though the workers exposed “one of the largest human trafficking schemes in US history,” no charges were brought against the company or the scammers, a maddening conclusion to Soni’s agile account.

A searing exposé of corporate criminality and its governmental enablers.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 9781643750088

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

SO HELP ME GOD

The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

PIRATE ENLIGHTENMENT, OR THE REAL LIBERTALIA

The final book from the longtime activist anthropologist.

In a lively display of up-to-date anthropology, Graeber (1961-2020) offers a behind-the-scenes view of how a skilled researcher extracts knowledge from the slimmest evidence about a long-ago multiethnic society composed of pirates and settled members of existing communities. In this posthumous book, the author turns to 17th- and 18th-century Madagascar and examines hard-to-credit sources to tease out some plausible facts about the creation and early life of a distinctive Indian Ocean society, some of whose Malagasy descendants (“the Zana-Malata”) are alive today. Exhibiting his characteristic politically tinged sympathies, Graeber describes the pirates who plied the seas and settled on Madagascar as an ethno-racially integrated proletariat “spearheading the development of new forms of democratic governance.” He also argues that many of the pirates and others displayed European Enlightenment ideas even though they inhabited “a very unlikely home for Enlightenment political experiments.” Malagasies were “Madagascar’s most stubbornly egalitarian peoples,” and, as the author shows, women played significant roles in the society, which reflected Jewish, Muslin, Ismaili, and Gnostic origins as well as native Malagasy and Christian ones. All of this information gives Graeber the chance to wonder, in his most provocative conjecture, whether Enlightenment ideals might have emerged as much beyond Western lands as within them. His argument that pirates, women traders, and community leaders in early 18th-century Madagascar were “global political actors in the fullest sense of the term” is overstated, but even with such excesses taken into account, the text is a tour de force of anthropological scholarship and an important addition to Malagasy history. It’s also a work written with a pleasingly light touch. The principal audience will be anthropologists, but those who love pirate lore or who seek evidence that mixed populations were long capable of establishing proto-democratic societies will also find enlightenment in these pages.

Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-374-61019-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2022

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