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




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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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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

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