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

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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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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