A pleasant hodgepodge of observations on many places, all of them made more interesting than they perhaps really are—and...

THE ABSENT HAND

REIMAGINING OUR AMERICAN LANDSCAPE

Of beach plums, ramps, and Ramada Inns: a quietly sensitive, eminently sensible consideration of the landscapes of our lives.

Lessard (The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family, 1996), a writer and editor for the New Yorker and Washington Monthly, respectively, is a collector of places—and, she writes, she is amazed by people who aren’t, as when she observes “how indifferent air passengers are to the view out the window.” Some views are perhaps a little cheerless, such as the industrial wastelands of Ohio or the battlefield at Gettysburg. Some are stunning, and all shape the people who live in them without being aggressively assertive about it, as with the New York village in which she finds “something modestly, collectively triumphant,” namely, a shared sense of belonging. Landscape, writes the author, incorporates layers of meaning that lie close to the “hidden springs of personhood,” joining families and histories to the world. No matter how difficult some of those landscapes may be, from broken urban neighborhoods to abandoned cemeteries, the meaning is there to be sought out. Lessard usually finds something to like, or at least to point out, about the places she brings up for consideration. One good example is Wall Street, where she logged time as a young worker in a financial world “in which women especially were relegated to a lower order”—no problem, really, inasmuch as she was busy absorbing the place and its glorious and messy chaos. The overall feel of the book, which blends poetic reverie with deeply learned geography and history, is friendly if just on the edge of being too much, of becoming encyclopedic. Still, you’ve got to like a narrative that includes a search for an elusive Staten Island landfill that ends in unlikely self-discovery: “You felt lonely just looking at it, as if you hadn’t spoken to another human being in months, years maybe.”

A pleasant hodgepodge of observations on many places, all of them made more interesting than they perhaps really are—and that’s quite a gift.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64009-221-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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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 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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