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Tag Archives: book review

REVIEW: “The Underground Railroad” By Colson Whitehead

by Charles EllenbogenWith all of the recent discussion about the changing faces on U.S. currency, some controversy emerged over a seemingly safe and definitely popular choice – Harriet Tubman. How many people, some asked, did she really lead to freedom? Do we really want the story of slavery memorialized on money? And, most persuasively, would Tubman herself have wanted this honor?By not bringing up her name in his breathtakingly great new book, The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, winner of the 2002 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for John Henry Days continues this conversation. Like most movements, the Railroad was made up of both the heroic conductors such as Tubman and the many nameless others who aided escaping slaves. Cora, Whitehead's protagonist, and Caesar, who inspires Cora to... Read More →

REVIEW: “The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race”

There are 108 tally marks on the cover of The Fire This Time, the new essay collection that brings forth 18 perspectives from a new generation of writers, working in the tradition of James Baldwin. Each mark represents a black life lost too soon, a visual representation of the urgency of #BlackLivesMatter. In the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013, Jesmyn Ward went to Twitter to share her frustration, but found the platform too ephemeral. She was much more struck by the pertinence of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Ward, editor of this anthology, decided she wanted a book that “would reckon with the fire of rage and despair and fierce protective love currently sweeping through the streets and campuses of America.” The results are mostly successful. The Fire Next... Read More →

An Overlooked Classic, “Nervous Conditions” Is A Book That Deserves A Second Life In The Mainstream

 by Gail Arnoff“I was not sorry when my brother died.”  So begins Tsi Tsi Dangarembga's semi-autobiographical novel Nervous Conditions, the story of Tambudzai, a teenage girl in (the former Rhodesia now Zimbabwe) who lives in two worlds: that of her parents, poor farmers who earn a meager living, and that of her aunt and uncle, whom the British colonists have chosen to receive an education in England and eventually to run the missionary school.  I fell in love with Tambu in the first few pages, and as I introduce her to more readers, I have discovered that they take her to their hearts as well. This includes participants in a Books@Work group, women who are thirty to sixty-five, and college students in a “Questions of Identity” seminar. Until I requested it, the Cleveland... Read More →

REVIEW: Andrew Solomon’s “Far & Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change: Seven Continents, Twenty-Five Years”

When Andrew Solomon went to Finland to promote The Noonday Demon, his ground-breaking 2001 book on depression, he landed on a leading morning television show.The interviewer, “a gorgeous blonde woman, leaned forward and asked in a mildly offended tone, ‘So, Mr. Solomon. What can you, an American, have to tell the Finnish people about depression?’” the writer recalls in his newest work.“I felt as though I had written a book about hot peppers and gone to promote it in Sichuan,” Solomon jokes in the leisurely and chatty introduction to Far & Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change: Seven Continents, Twenty-Five Years.Clearly this 52-year-old writer, who won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2013, has serious wanderlust. Solomon has traveled to 83 of the 196 recognized nations... Read More →

REVIEW: Mat Johnson’s “Loving Day” Proves A Strong Offering In Racial Satire

by Gary StonumIn electoral politics you must choose one candidate. In identity politics, it is often the same. As Warren Duffy, the African American narrator in the 2015 novel Loving Day, tells his newly discovered teenage daughter Tal, “There’s Team White and Team Black, okay? You probably didn’t even know you were on Team White.”Of course, things are not so simple. Like author Mat Johnson, Duffy identifies as black but looks white, “the human equivalent of mismatched socks.” Repeatedly, he must perform his race in order to fit in. Worse, 17-year-old Tal, who is actually darker than her father, has been raised Jewish since her mother died, and was, as her father puts it, “casually racist.”This may sound like the setup for a 21st century update of a tragic mulatto plot.... Read More →

REVIEW: “The Turner House” Captures Detroit With All Its Grit And Glory

Spread over the opening pages of Angela Flournoy's "The Turner House" is a family tree, its branches enumerating the 61 members of the Turner clan, the Detroit family at the heart of her engrossing debut novel. Inspired by her father's Detroit upbringing and his 12 siblings, Flournoy makes her mark in modern literature with the Turners. The Turner family home -- a mint-green and brick single family structure on Detroit's fictional Yarrow Street that served as its "sedentary mascot" -- has seen 13 children come and go, and many more grandchildren and great-grandchildren walk through its doors. With matriarch Viola in failing health and patriarch Francis long deceased, the question of what to do with the house, its value plummeting, calls the Turner heirs together.  The home is more than... Read More →

REVIEW: Alison Kinney’s “Hood” Offers Lesson On The Garment That Made Headlines

In March 2012, U.S. Representative Bobby Rush stood on the House floor dressed in a gray hooded sweatshirt, one month after Trayvon Martin was shot dead in a Florida suburb. "Just because someone wears a hoodie, does not make them a hoodlum," said the Illinois Democrat. "Just because someone is a young Black male and wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum. . ." He was escorted off the floor and out of the chamber by the sergeant-in-arms for violating decorum. Author Alison Kinney begins her "Hood" – publishing this week -- with this telling moment. Part of the publisher Bloombury's "Object Lessons" series, "Hood" contains a definite chill as Kinney tracks the history and significance of the garment through the 15th century to the present. "We all wear hoods," Kinney writes, "but... Read More →

REVIEW: “The Education of Kevin Powell”

Violence permeates nearly every page of "The Education of Kevin Powell." Neighborhood boys, relatives, authority figures and even the author himself doles out pain aplenty in this memoir and coming-of-age story. Born and raised in a poverty-stricken Jersey City neighborhood, young Kevin's early years are a series of grim vignettes—fights on the school yard, nightmares about rats in the walls and a few brief visits from a father scarcely there. From such beginnings he grows into a prominent activist among the post-Civil Rights generation—fighting police brutality, racism and sexism.  Powell, 49, traces his love for words to the Greenville Public Library, where he stumbled upon “For Whom the Bell Tolls” as an 11-year-old. He fell in love with Ernest Hemingway. "If I could not... Read More →

REVIEW: Tamara Winfrey Harris Lends Depth To Black Womanhood In “The Sisters Are Alright”

About a year ago, I noticed a number of black women I follow online all wearing the same "Black Girls are Magic" t-shirt in their social media profiles. Launched by @ThePBG on Twitter, the t-shirt line was created in "celebration of the beauty, intelligence and power of Black women everywhere." It's not hard to imagine those magical black women nestled somewhere reading journalist Tamara Winfrey Harris' first book, 'The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America." Her thesis is that black women are "neither innately damaged nor fundamentally flawed," but instead are aching to be recognized for their full humanity.  So what is Winfrey Harris pushing back against? In a brisk 123 pages, the Indiana native investigates the "three-headed hydra" of black... Read More →

REVIEW: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World And Me” Is A Blunt Examination Of Black Life In America

Coates with his son Somari When a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates watched his 15-year-old son Samori slowly stand up and walk into his own Baltimore bedroom to cry. As Coates recounts this story in Between the World and Me, he writes that he followed his son, but did not hug or console him: "I did not tell you it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within all of it." Originally conceived as a collection of essays on the Civil War, Between the World and Me arrived four months ahead of its... Read More →
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