It’s clear the editors made dozens of nips and tucks to maximize their stated goal of “clear and engaging reading” while...

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THE ROBERT PENN WARREN CIVIL RIGHTS INTERVIEWS

An anthology reinvigorates Robert Penn Warren’s long-overlooked collection of civil rights interviews.

Published in 1965, Warren’s oral history Who Speaks for the Negro? received mostly lukewarm reviews and little fanfare. Among critics, the 450-page volume of interviews was billed as everything from “the very best inside report” on the civil rights movement to “boring.” The interviewees include Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael, and the volume brims with Warren’s own reflections, revealing as much about the author as it did the movement (critics claimed it had nothing new to say). After decades of fading from memory, Yale University Press reprinted Who Speaks? in 2014. Here, Smith and Ellis (co-editors: Say It Loud: Great Speeches on Civil Rights and African American Identity, 2010, etc.) present a modified, highly relevant version of Warren’s enormous undertaking. “In this edited anthology,” they write, “the focus is on the interviews themselves.” Not all of the interviews are retained—but two are added: Septima T. Clark and Andrew Young—and Smith and Ellis stripped away the poet’s personal observations and digressions, returning to the raw transcripts and allowing the stand-alone interviews to drive home their own measures of insight. One example is the opening interview with the Rev. Joe Carter, the first African-American to register to vote in Louisiana’s West Feliciana Parish. What is now published as pure monologue describes in powerful detail Carter’s 1963 experience of harassment and arrest by a mob of whites as he defiantly attempted to register. Among other changes, the editors shed Warren’s interview titles, replacing them with the subject, date, and location followed by a page of “biographical and historical context.”

It’s clear the editors made dozens of nips and tucks to maximize their stated goal of “clear and engaging reading” while remaining “faithful to the spirit and substance of the conversations.” The result is an anthology that arguably holds more contemporary importance as a historical document than the original release.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59558-818-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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 moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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