Superb, well-researched history, brilliantly alive.

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STORIES OF FREEDOM IN BLACK NEW YORK

A dazzling history of the first African-American theater company in New York, focusing on principal actor James Hewlett.

In 1799, the state legislature “ended” slavery: all children born to slave women after July 4, 1799, would be free—after 25 to 28 years in indentured servitude. Against this backdrop, a small group of free northern blacks, in 1821, formed a theater troupe. White (History/Univ. of Sydney; Stylin’: African American Expressive Culture, 1998) notes that in 1821 acting was “the exclusive and natural preserve of whites,” but the new company staged Shakespeare, particularly Richard III, with the lead played by Hewlett, who had been the servant of two English actors. In 1822, the troupe moved next door to the Park Theater. As Hewlett began his soliloquy one evening, the police halted the drama, took the cast into custody, and released them only after their promise “never to act Shakespeare again.” In its old quarters, the company mounted new productions, but months later a group of men entered the theater and attacked the actors, destroying scenery, lamps, and stage curtain. Afterward, the company performed intermittently, in New York and on tour, and in 1823, Hewlett began a career with a one-person show, a format then unknown. By 1825, he was at the height of his career, with plans to travel to London. Sadly, another New York performer, Ira Aldridge, got there first and presented much of Hewlett’s act as his own. Back home, as the American public turned to minstrel shows for entertainment, Hewlett found less and less work, got caught up in the criminal world, served a two-year sentence, and was released in 1839, in his 50s. He took the first boat from New York and disembarked at Port of Spain, Trinidad. There, he briefly revived his stage career before disappearing without a trace.

Superb, well-researched history, brilliantly alive.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-674-00893-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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