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A rare, lyrical family memoir that rises above banal domesticity.

The author’s account of growing up with a former Black Panther for a father in a disintegrating corner of Baltimore.

Unlike so many of his compatriots in the Black Power movement, Paul Coates didn’t burn out in disappointment after the heat of ’60s idealism turned to ash. Instead, he raised his family, a polyglot mix of children from four mothers, to exacting standards in a Baltimore that by the time of the author’s childhood in the late ’70s and early ’80s was experiencing a drug-and-violence-fueled societal breakdown. In Coates’s poetic account of his youth, Paul provided a bulwark against the buffeting waves of the crack wars outside: “We were a close-knit circle, but a circle surrounded by dire wolves.” While Paul rescued the works of lost or little-known writers through his Black Classic Press (still in existence) and pushed his children to succeed, the author watched with mixed worry and jealousy as his older brother Bill ran the streets and built his rep. The details of Coates’s travels through disintegrating neighborhoods and schools that seemed almost designed to torment a bookish, dreamy kid would be pedestrian in many writers’ hands, but he wields words with a rare grace that gives his story an uncommon power. “The world was filled with great causes—Mandela, Nicaragua, and the battle against Reagan,” Coates writes. “But we died for sneakers stitched by serfs, coats that gave props to teams we didn’t own, hats embroidered with the names of Confederate states.” It’s one of the saddest descriptions of the crack epidemic ever put to page. Given the tragic number of African-Americans who didn’t survive that epidemic, it’s a pleasure to read the author’s awed appraisal of a father who never stopped striving for the best in his family and community, no matter how hopeless the view outside his window.

A rare, lyrical family memoir that rises above banal domesticity.

Pub Date: May 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-385-52036-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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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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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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