LANDSCAPE AND MEMORY

With this fascinating, encyclopedic survey of cultural landscapes, Schama (Dead Certainties, 1991, etc.) demonstrates once again just why he holds a charmed place in the literature of historical interpretation. The landscape is a work of the mind, argues Schama, another compartment in the cultural baggage we all lug about. The scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock, shaped by the same rich and complex traditions that frame other aspects of our cultural world. Without the proper context (or rather the proper contexts, as our way of seeing changes with the prevailing ideological fashion), we are unable to harvest from a look at the land all that it has to offer — all the allegorical, mythological, and metaphorical notes (not to mention a greater appreciation of just what we stand to lose by continuing to degrade the land); instead, we emerge with an impoverished sense of place. Schama proceeds by slicing the landscape into three elements — wood, water, and rock-and then digging deep and wide to excavate their manifold traditions, unveiling a luxurious wealth of landscape history. But Schama's project goes beyond the cataloging of marvelous incidentals and minutiae-from Druid grove to tabernacle, from Mt. Olympus to Mt. Rushmore, from sacred stream to the Yangtze. As each and every aspect of the cultural landscape comes bubbling up through the overburden of history, Schama knits it together with what has come before, creating on the page an environment so palpable you can almost crawl inside and marvel at an ancient oak, a swath of meadow, and do so through the eyes of a pagan, or a renegade, or a Victorian mountaineer. Wearing his erudition lightly, Schama effortlessly juggles a landslide of material and presents his tale with the captivating, inviting intimacy of a gifted storyteller.

Pub Date: April 24, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-40255-1

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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