THE QUALITY OF MERCY

A REPORT FROM CAMBODIA ON THE INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS THAT RESPOND TO WORM DISASTER

Revelations about unspeakable brutality by the Khmer Rouge, the Peking-allied guerrillas who ruled Cambodia in the early and mid-1970s, were paid varying degrees of attention until Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978. Then, when Western reporters saw the devastation, they invoked the image of holocaust. Shawcross, author of Sideshow, on the US war in Cambodia, was one of those who warned of famine in 1979 if help didn't come. It did—but Shawcross now knows there was no serious famine threat. Inquiringly, he has reconstructed the process whereby many experienced and honorable people misinterpreted the situation, while documenting and narrating the history of emergency aid. Information about Cambodia came from two sources: the refugees fleeing into Thailand and the Vietnamese-supported government in Phnom Penh. The refugees were clearly in dire straits: malnourished, malarial, some starving. In Phnom Penh, the government restricted Westerners' movements: what they saw was an almost-abandoned city with atrocious medical conditions. The Hight of refugees, and other factors, led Western relief experts to believe that the rice harvests would be devastated; that, combined with what they saw of conditions, convinced them that a famine was in the making. The Phnom Penh government, out to brand Khmer Rouge leader Poi Pot as a Hitler-figure, encouraged the famine stories, but did not cooperate with the relief agencies. The two in first—UNICEF and the International Red Cross—quickly ran into issues of sovereignty. When they tried to provide help along the Khmer Rouge border areas, the Phnom Penh government balked. Oxfam, the British relief group, did get medical and other supplies into Phnom Penh, but only by ignoring the border areas. Once some of the political wrangles were worked out, and supplies started going into Phnom Penh, the Vietnamese made little effort to distribute them. It now appears that conditions were much worse in the Khmer Rouge areas—hence the plight of the refugees—than in the Vietnamese-controlled areas. Rice was kept mostly in Phnom Penh, and given to government workers; this did leave the countryside free to feed only itself, however, and the abundance of secondary crops sufficed. Even if famine had occurred, Shawcross shows, the aid would not have arrived in time. National governments caused the programs to malfunction, and he is objective in his assessment of them. He never questions the motives of UNICEF, the Red Cross, and the others (though Oxfam played some competitive politics); but plenty of questionable decisions are cited—capped by the non-review, by these agencies, of their mistakes. (For lack, regrettably, of such funding.) The same can't be said of Shawcross, who knows when he has made a mistake and sets out to understand why. Every bit as important as Sideshow in a less sensational way; and likely to be as controversial.

Pub Date: June 28, 1984

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1984

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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