An engrossing and unsparing look at a grueling journey of commitment and acceptance.

SLAVES TO THE RHYTHM

A writer offers a recollection of growing up gay in the Philadelphia suburbs and a love story set amid the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early 1990s.

Connell ambitiously weaves together three narrative devices—a journal, a traditional memoir, and a timeline of the HIV/AIDS pandemic—but keeps them easily distinguishable through the use of different typefaces. Beginning in January 1993 and covering the final year of his partner Stephan’s life, the journal allows for a raw, immediate account of their relationship as it was tested by the exigencies of survival, with countless moments of tender intimacy and gut-punching reality. It’s an exhausting read—the audience can virtually feel the physical suffering—but the author does not shy away from chronicling the emotional turmoil either, as he wondered how much longer he could care for Stephan at home. Connell also presents vignettes in a refreshing, localized way; for example, he mentions a particular purveyor and flavor of Philadelphia’s famous “Italian water ice” that allowed Stephan to counteract the metallic sensation in his mouth. The sections featuring a more traditional memoir style begin with the author recalling a largely idyllic childhood in an Irish Catholic family. But with the onset of adolescence, his religious doubts and gay sexuality intertwined to complicate matters, becoming a recurring theme, especially regarding fraught relationships with his parents and several siblings. As Connell succinctly comments in the foreword, “It is one of my biggest confusions in life, to watch over and over how a beautiful and heartfelt faith can be so cruel in its expression.” Eventually, these memoir chapters pass the journal entries, ending a year after Stephan’s death, when the author began a new life in Boston. Overall, the only drawback is that the project could use another round of editing. For instance, beyond the distracting spelling and grammatical errors and missing words, the Horsham Clinic somehow becomes the Ambler Clinic, and a reference to Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency (November 1992) appears in the journal, which ostensibly covers 1993. But the illuminating timeline, with content gleaned from cited sources, presents key dates, factoids, and quotations from the early ’80s through 1996, when more effective HIV/AIDS treatment options emerged—a vivid reminder of how medical workers and various communities responded to a health crisis in the face of governmental inaction.

An engrossing and unsparing look at a grueling journey of commitment and acceptance.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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