An undeveloped premise and an overbearing narrator obscure a promising idea.




Rambling, first-person account of Newsweek International correspondent Butler’s decade of intermittent interviews with the children of former slaves.

Prompted in part by proposed 1997 legislation calling for Congress to issue a formal government apology for slavery and in part by the discovery that her family was descended from slaves, the author’s sprawling debut attempts to tease out truths about modern racial constructs, debunk stereotypes and reframe the notion of family. Interviews are sandwiched piecemeal between the minutiae of the author’s research process, updates on her father’s deteriorating health and detailed descriptions of her travel arrangements. (She crossed the nation in a fleet of rental cars, maxing out her credit cards.) The problematic nature of Butler’s approach is evident from the opening profile of well-respected Southern California lawyer Crispus Attucks Wright, whose father was a child when slavery ended. Cobbling together interviews, journal entries and newspaper clippings, the author sketches a preliminary outline of the nonagenarian’s family history and his colorful life as a major force in Los Angeles politics, early civil-rights crusader and activist for affirmative action. But his recollections, and those that follow, are swamped by Butler’s compulsion to insert herself into the story. She opines freely on each topic and veers off into unrelated tangents, such as the menu at the posh Belvedere restaurant or the quality of her accommodations. These jarring asides disrupt the narrative flow and distract from her important subject. It could have been an interesting project, fusing memoir and history to show a modern African-American woman grappling with her personal family legacy while attempting to document slavery’s impact on the first generation of freedmen and women. But Butler’s meddlesome narration and patchwork construction present nearly insuperable obstacles to readers hoping for fresh illumination on this dark aspect of American history.

An undeveloped premise and an overbearing narrator obscure a promising idea.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59921-375-0

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2009

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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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A sleek, vital history that effectively shows how, “from the outset, inequality was enforced with the whip, the gun, and the...


A concise, alternate history of the United States “about how people across the hemisphere wove together antislavery, anticolonial, pro-freedom, and pro-working-class movements against tremendous obstacles.”

In the latest in the publisher’s ReVisioning American History series, Ortiz (History/Univ. of Florida; Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920, 2005, etc.) examines U.S. history through the lens of African-American and Latinx activists. Much of the American history taught in schools is limited to white America, leaving out the impact of non-European immigrants and indigenous peoples. The author corrects that error in a thorough look at the debt of gratitude we owe to the Haitian Revolution, the Mexican War of Independence, and the Cuban War of Independence, all struggles that helped lead to social democracy. Ortiz shows the history of the workers for what it really was: a fatal intertwining of slavery, racial capitalism, and imperialism. He states that the American Revolution began as a war of independence and became a war to preserve slavery. Thus, slavery is the foundation of American prosperity. With the end of slavery, imperialist America exported segregation laws and labor discrimination abroad. As we moved into Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, we stole their land for American corporations and used the Army to enforce draconian labor laws. This continued in the South and in California. The rise of agriculture could not have succeeded without cheap labor. Mexican workers were often preferred because, if they demanded rights, they could just be deported. Convict labor worked even better. The author points out the only way success has been gained is by organizing; a great example was the “Day without Immigrants” in 2006. Of course, as Ortiz rightly notes, much more work is necessary, especially since Jim Crow and Juan Crow are resurging as each political gain is met with “legal” countermeasures.

A sleek, vital history that effectively shows how, “from the outset, inequality was enforced with the whip, the gun, and the United States Constitution.”

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8070-1310-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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