The toll is astounding, and this book is important for many reasons—difficult to stomach, but important all the same.

TOMBSTONE

THE GREAT CHINESE FAMINE, 1958-1962

The harrowing account of China’s Great Famine.

When he was a young boy in the countryside, writes Yang Jisheng, a classmate insisted that Chairman Mao “has been enthroned”—that is, following an old pattern in Chinese history, had overthrown the old emperor to become the new one. Mao Zedong wasn’t exactly an emperor—he complained bitterly about being lied to, something the first emperor in China, Shi Huangdi, would have dealt with by mass beheading—but he had the requisite aloofness to stand aside while, by the author’s account, millions of his compatriots starved to death in a four-year famine that was partly the fault of the weather, partly the fault of overpopulation, but mostly the fault of politics. “The basic reason why tens of millions of people in China starved to death was totalitarianism,” writes the author. In a book that may eventually be thought of as a Chinese analog to Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, Yang offers a numbing inventory of the myriad dead and the statistics surrounding their demise: “One of the hospital’s so-called doctors was an accountant, and one of the two nursing attendants was an eleven-year-old orphan. The smell of the wards was so horrendous that the nursing attendants couldn’t bear to enter them”; “The figures on grain yield and pig farming quoted in the Anhui Daily report on Mao’s visit were preposterous. . . . Once the lies were reproduced in People’s Daily, cadres all over China felt compelled to spew out similar falsehoods.” And the deaths were not just of the living, writes the author, all 36 million of them, but also of the imagined unborn, another 32 million who would have entered the world had there been no famine.

The toll is astounding, and this book is important for many reasons—difficult to stomach, but important all the same.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-27793-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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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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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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