Book Reviews

Colson Whitehead

Doubleday

Fear drove these people, even more than cotton money. The shadow of the black hand that will return what has been given. It occurred to her one night that she was one of the vengeful monsters they were scared of: She had killed a white boy. She might kill one of them next. And because of that fear, they erected a new scaffolding of oppression on the cruel foundation laid hundreds of years before. That was Sea Island cotton the slaver had ordered for his rows, but scattered among the seeds were those of violence and death, and the crop grew fast. The whites were right to be afraid. One day the system would collapse in blood.

                       from  The Underground Railroad

 

Mary Karr

HarperCollins

You can count on a memoirist being passionate about the subject.                       …

I once heard Don DeLillo quip that a fiction writer starts with meaning and then manufactures events to represent it; a memoirist starts with events, then derives meaning from them.                          …

Everybody I know who wades deep enough into memory’s waters drowns a little.   …

For the more haunted among us, only looking back at the past can permit it finally to become past.

                                     from  The Art of Memoir

 

Gigi Little, editor

Forest Avenue Press

Over the last few days I’d amassed a pile of library books on (the mind-body problem), looking for an answer. Instead, I had begun to suspect that I didn’t even really understand the question…This was for Metaphysics, a class I’d taken because I was then, as I am now, prone to mysticism—though the only reason Reed allows freshmen to take this course, as far as I can tell, is to cure them of such afflictions quickly.

from  Susan DeFreitas’s story, “The Mind-Body Problem,” in City of Weird

 

Joby Warrick

Doubleday

 

 

 

Though some would cast his movement as an al-Qaeda offshoot, Zarqawi was no one’s acolyte. His brand of jihadism was utterly, brutally original. Osama bin Laden had sought to liberate Muslim nations gradually from corrupting Western influences so they could someday unify as a single Islamic theocracy, or caliphate. Zarqawi, by contrast, insisted that he would create his caliphate immediately—right now. He would seek to usher in God’s kingdom on Earth through acts of unthinkable savagery, believing, correctly, that theatrical displays of extreme violence would attract the most hardened jihadists to his cause and frighten everyone else into submission.

                                               from  Black Flags

 

 

Edna O'Brien

Little, Brown and Company

 

 

 

One thousand, three hundred and fifty-nine days of [the siege of Sarajevo.] The human spirit is indomitable. Such were the sentiments of outsiders who nevertheless could not imagine the carnage…Since then they had a celebration, a way of remembering, red chairs erected in our beloved city, your jewel as you called it. Yes, eleven thousand, five hundred and forty-one red chairs in commemoration of the fallen. It is said that tourists only begin to cry when they come upon the six hundred and forty-three little red chairs of dead children…

                                    from  The Little Red Chairs

 

 

Nancy Isenberg

Viking

 

 

The power elite in American history has thrived by placating the vulnerable and creating for them a false sense of identification—denying real class differences wherever possible…Poor whites are still taught to hate—but not to hate those who are keeping them in line. Lyndon Johnson knew this when he quipped, “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

                                            from  White Trash

 

 

Jacob Needleman

North Atlantic Books

 

 

You will see that your mind is a ragtag collection of opinions, beliefs, fragmentary, imaginary certainties about anything and everything—things you have been told, or heard, or which are constantly absorbed into your mind in the atmosphere of your circle of friends, chance acquaintances, your schools, your entertainments—the fashionable worldviews and habits of explanations that are really no more than fossilized mental habits…You will realize that what you need is not new beliefs, new information, new theories, but an entirely new mind.

                                          from  I Am Not I

 

Suzanne Kelman

Lake Union Publishing

 

 

 

I’d always had this kind of idyllic 1950s vision of going on a road trip. I had conjured up images of good-looking middle-aged women in lipstick and headscarves laughing and joking along an open highway. A bit like Thelma & Louise, without the attempted rape, killing and suicide leap. However, the notion of the suicide leap seemed almost appealing now.

      from  The Rejected Writers’ Book Club

 

Sarah Bakewell

Other Press

 

 

Just after the Nazi takeover, in spring 1933, (Hannah Arendt) had been arrested…Her apartment was searched; both she and her mother were locked up briefly, then released. They fled, without stopping to arrange travel documents. They crossed to Czechoslovakia (then still safe) by a method that sounds almost too fabulous to be true: a sympathetic German family on the border had a house with its front door in Germany and its back door in Czechoslovakia. The family would invite people for dinner, then let them leave through the back door at night.

                        from  At the Existentialist Cafe

 

Richard Flanagan

Alfred A Knopf

 

 

He was not unaware of his critics. Mostly he found himself in agreement with them. His fame seemed to him a failure of perception on the part of others. He had avoided what he regarded as some obvious errors of life, such as politics and golf…He understood that he shared certain features, habits and history with the war hero. But he was not him. He’d just had more success at living than at dying….

    from  The Narrow Road to the Deep North