A valuable contribution to the literature of race and its problematics.

WHEN I WAS WHITE

“You’re the blackest white girl I’ve ever seen”: Writer and translator Valentine explores a past that had been carefully hidden from her.

There are phenotypes, and then there are culture, nature and nurture, and all that comes between. Born in 1977, the author, whose biological father was African American, grew up thinking she was Irish and Italian, the fact of her parentage deliberately hidden. “I didn’t know much about race,” she writes of a childhood friendship with a child who looked like her, “but I knew it existed; I thought some people were black, but most people were normal.” That learned sense of “normalcy” comes under close examination in this deftly written book, marked by all kinds of telling milestones: Her classmates called her “Slash,” the nickname of the mixed-race Guns N’ Roses guitarist, while a Nigerian guest speaker in a middle school social studies class called on her to model a fabric used in traditional clothing, yielding a dawning awareness that she, and not someone else, was “the other.” The point was driven home when a guidance counselor encouraged her to apply for minority scholarships, to which her adoptive father responded that she would be depriving someone who needed them; he added, “don’t tell your mother about this." Her family’s denial of the obvious seems puzzling, but Valentine has much to say about the intersection of the personal, the biological, and the cultural. She writes, for instance, that she became a fluent speaker of Russian, with the ability to think and write at a highly accomplished level about Russian literature and with plenty of time on the ground in Russia, but all that near-native ability “didn’t make me Russian.” In a nice turn, she later writes of discovering the existence of a diasporic group that moved into the Caucasus in the 17th century, “making them literal African Caucasians.” Valentine’s journey of self-discovery is affecting, a hard-won quest to arrive at an origin story that suits the facts rather than turns away from them.

A valuable contribution to the literature of race and its problematics.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-14675-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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