Too densely academic in structure and execution for general readers, but a historical work of surpassing importance.

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EQUIANO THE AFRICAN

BIOGRAPHY OF A SELF-MADE MAN

Of uncertain origins, Equiano rises from servitude to literary celebrity in 18th-century England.

Carretta (English/Univ. of Maryland) has published editions of Equiano’s 1789 autobiography (The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Oludah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African) and is a leading authority on both the man and his text. And, as he quickly acknowledges, much more is known about the latter than the former. Carretta shows that Equiano carefully, even artfully, crafted his African identity, yet two key documents indicate he was born in South Carolina. Continent of birth aside, there is no doubt he was a slave and that he endured many of the cruelties suffered by millions of others. Carretta’s narrative can at times be numbing: He expends many pages summarizing Equiano’s text—often using block quotations—repeating even the most dubious aspects of Equiano’s story (his African boyhood, his capture, the Middle Passage), as if to say, yes, it’s likely that none of this happened to him, but it did happen to others. The story becomes more engaging when Carretta tells what we do know about Equiano—his years at sea with the Royal Navy, his religious conversion to Methodism, his emerging careers as abolitionist and writer, his marriage. One of his first owners, a Royal Navy lieutenant, betrayed Equiano, refusing to free him as promised. Undeterred, Equiano earned enough to purchase his liberty, returned to England, spent some time as a hairdresser, domestic servant and laboratory assistant (for a man converting seawater to fresh) before publicly defining himself as an African, writing abolitionist newspaper articles and, finally, composing his autobiography, a text Carretta analyzes in scholarly fashion. Equiano married a white woman, made much money on his book, inherited other property from his wife’s estate and died in 1797 as England’s wealthiest man of African descent. His gravesite is unknown.

Too densely academic in structure and execution for general readers, but a historical work of surpassing importance.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2005

ISBN: 0-8203-2571-6

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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