Lively reading, no, but a useful contribution to the scholarly literature.



Mentalités meet Minie balls in this study of the Old South’s romantic “honor culture” and its collapse into disillusionment.

“You ought to be delighted at my occasionally leaving you,” wrote a Confederate officer to his spouse on riding off to war, “for it shows me more plainly than anything else that you are my wife indeed.” The battlefield was the place to test and earn honor, the hearth the place to enshrine it: such notions, asserts debut author Berry (History/ Univ. of North Carolina, Pembroke), were central to the “hypermasculinized” culture of the South, which prized women but didn’t find much for them to do apart from serve as vessels of civilization. Working with a body of letters and diaries, Berry explores the emotional world of Southern soldiers, who went off to fight full of high ideas about warfare and womenfolk but returned from four years of bloodshed and starvation with a less glamorous view of things. Those poignant documents are immediate and revealing. One Alabama soldier who later died in combat, for instance, wrote to his wife that he and his comrades “are hardly allowed to sigh at the fall of our friends and relatives, and if we do happen to shed a tear secretly, it is soon dried up to make room for someone else.” Berry’s treatment of the documents is respectful but dispassionate, as when he dryly observes that men, “as much as women, depended on members of the opposite sex to validate and make meaningful their struggles and successes, to aid, comfort, and believe in them, even and especially when self-belief began to fade or fail”—as it did, Berry writes, when the Southern fighters discovered that the creed of death before dishonor carried a contradiction: death was dishonor, for “how much nobility is there in dying of dysentery?”

Lively reading, no, but a useful contribution to the scholarly literature.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-19-514567-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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...


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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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