A thoughtful insider’s perspective on Eastern Europe’s fitful steps toward democracy.

CAFÉ EUROPA REVISITED

HOW TO SURVIVE POST-COMMUNISM

A Croatian journalist and novelist reconsiders what’s gone right—and wrong—in post-communist Eastern Europe.

In this sequel to Café Europa (1997), Drakulić admits that Eastern Europeans had a “perhaps too rosy” view of the benefits of unity with the West and the ease of attaining it. Especially since the influx of immigrants in 2015 and 2016, questions of national identity have morphed into a virulent nationalism: “These sorts of ideas used to travel from west to east; now they are moving in the opposite direction, as if nationalization and Balkanization were no longer the property of Eastern Europe alone.” The author often returns to points she’s made before but generally gives them fresh life in these 15 graceful essays in which ordinary people and events tend to become metaphors for larger issues—e.g., the “fantastic” European health insurance card or the “ugly” revival of anti-Semitism on the continent. “European Food Apartheid” begins with EU and other investigations that found that food producers were sending subpar products to Poland, Bulgaria, and other former communist countries but opens out to suggest why Eastern bloc nations feel like “second-class consumers” in the EU. Another essay involves a widowed Serbian immigrant and much-admired shopkeeper in Stockholm whose only companion, a pet parrot, was confiscated by Swedish police when he failed to heed their warning to get a larger cage. The incident suggests why Balkan expatriates may feel like strange birds no matter how assimilated. In laying bare human emotions, Drakulić at times slights the larger political picture—in analyzing Viktor Orbán’s appeal to Hungarians, she fails to note that his government largely controls the media, which gives them a lopsided picture of him—but overall, she’s a fine guide to many aspects of a region poorly understood by much of the West.

A thoughtful insider’s perspective on Eastern Europe’s fitful steps toward democracy.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313417-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-80046-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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