A digestible introduction to a specific piece of the history of the South’s racial politics.

A nonobservant Jewish woman chronicles her journey to investigate the interwoven histories of the South’s Jews and African Americans.

In a series of brief excursions, Eisenfeld, a communications consultant who teaches science writing in the Johns Hopkins University MA in Science Writing program, recounts her travels from Virginia to Mississippi in search of the South’s lost Jewish communities. The further she traveled, the more she was convinced that the histories of Southern Jews and African Americans were inextricable. The trip forced her to reevaluate stereotypes about Jews and the South as well as her own “unexamined belief that I was a non-racist, open-minded, ‘color blind’ person with progressive views about acceptance, cultural sensitivity, and everything else that’s politically correct, or as I like to see it: respectful.” Eisenfeld visited the few remaining descendants of once-thriving Jewish communities and traversed cemeteries and converted synagogues. She toured former Jewish-owned slave plantations and schools built by Sears, Roebuck, and Company president Julius Rosenwald, “a Jewish Yankee who came down South to do good.” As the author notes, the complex role that Jews have played in Southern race relations has inspired conflicted emotions. Some owned slaves and fought for the Confederacy, some died in defense of civil rights, and many were simply bystanders more concerned with their own peace and prosperity than with taking a political stance. The bystander’s legacy is the one with which Eisenfeld was surprised to find herself identified as a Northerner. As a result, she made a private commitment to increase her anti-racist political activities. Written in friendly, accessible, occasionally clunky prose—the author is a fan of extended compound adjectives such as “could-be-in-any-Jewish-home”—the book is geared toward an audience of readers much like Eisenfeld before she took her journey: curious, open-minded, and ready for an introductory plunge into more profound racial consciousness.

A digestible introduction to a specific piece of the history of the South’s racial politics.

Pub Date: April 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8142-5581-0

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Mad Creek/Ohio State Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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