An insightful, indispensable memoir.

A standout memoir that digs into vital contemporary questions of race and self-image—among the most relevant, “What is proximity to the idea of whiteness worth and what does color cost? And the reverse?”

Williams (Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture, 2010), a 2019 New America Fellow and contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine, moves away from the “Black Man” label to offer a chronicle of why he is aiming to think of himself as “an ex–Black Man.” Raised in the 1980s in New Jersey by a “black” father and a “white” mother, the author grew up thinking of himself as black. The trigger for writing this lyrical, incisive memoir was the birth of his daughter in 2013, followed by a son. They are also mixed-race given the author’s marriage to Valentine, a Frenchwoman. (The family resides in Paris.) Though Williams is determined to move beyond categorizations of “black” and “white,” in order to communicate clearly in this memoir, he knows he must rely heavily “on our language’s descriptive conventions,” which he explains in the opening author’s note. We see the author’s psychological struggle as he thinks through the conundrums, including what the confusion might mean for his white-looking children. In the hands of a lesser writer, the back and forth of his pondering could have sunk the memoir. However, it succeeds spectacularly for three main reasons: the author’s relentlessly investigative thought process, consistent candor, and superb writing style. Almost every page contains at least one sentence so resonant that it bears rereading for its impact. The lengthy prologue is grounded heavily in discussions of race as a social construct. Part 1 takes readers through Williams’ adolescence, Part 2 through his marriage, and Part 3 through dealing with his family on both sides. In the epilogue, the author speculates on “the shape of things to come.” Shelve this one alongside Kiese Laymon’s Heavy, Mitchell Jackson’s Survival Math, and Imani Perry’s Breathe.

An insightful, indispensable memoir.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-60886-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019


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

Close Quickview