An urgent, digestible document of a violently failing state, with clear connection to flawed American policies past and...

STATE OF WAR

MS-13 AND EL SALVADOR'S WORLD OF VIOLENCE

Brisk, chilling examination of El Salvador’s descent into violence and the role of notorious transnational gang MS-13.

Journalist Wheeler combines a clear sense of geopolitical history and gutsy on-the-ground reporting, producing a compact tale of a slow-motion, violent societal collapse, termed by a political science professor he interviewed as “Somalization,” which is “defined by the fragmentation of power. Without the state. Here there’s no state.” The sad story has sharp relevance in regard to Donald Trump’s attacks on migrants and prior administrations’ treatment of the Central American “Triangle” as a political football, including Ronald Reagan’s stoking of a brutal anti-communist civil war. Others argue that the current crisis echoes a “culture of impunity fostered in the Cold War hysteria of the past, when the U.S. government was so focused on its enemies that it ignored the most shocking crimes of its allies.” Since the Salvadoran civil war wound down, cycles of corrupt, factionalized governments have alternately warred against and attempted collusion with two hyperviolent gangs—MS-13 and Barrio 18—both of which were essentially exported from Southern California during waves of deportations in the 1990s. Wheeler argues that this is best seen as a creeping extension of the civil war, with the gangs increasingly resembling guerrilla movements. He effectively penetrates the underworld, looking at how the gangs’ leaders learned to centralize power within prisons they controlled and how the gangs moved into both neighborhood extortion and transshipment deals with Mexican drug cartels. One MS-13 member Wheeler interviewed noted that “extortion had another hidden cost. It made the gangs parasites in their communities, exacerbating the cycle of residents informing and his clique murdering informants.” The author’s writing is colorful and clear, though a grisly hopelessness pervades his encounters—e.g., in the stories of devoted cops driven underground after participating in extrajudicial death squads or a freelance forensic examiner who believes the gangs will eventually kill him.

An urgent, digestible document of a violently failing state, with clear connection to flawed American policies past and present.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73362-372-8

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Columbia Global Reports

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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