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Chutes (East Brunswick, NJ USA)

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The Life of Olaudah Equiano
The Life of Olaudah Equiano
by Olaudah Equiano
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.00
59 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars an 18th century spiritual and political autobiography, Dec 16 2003
As an American who has grown up hearing and learning about slavery and the slave trade in the US, and mainly in the 19th century, I appreciated the insight Equiano's book gives into the institution from other parts of the world, and in particular how racism evolved within an institution that had been taken for granted for centuries and had not been particularly racist.
It is not the narrative of a victim. Not only does Equiano purchase his freedom halfway through the book, but also you can tell from the incidents he describes and from reading between the lines that he was a strong, even pugnacious person who didn't take any guff from people he did not respect. He was pragmatic, ambitious, and a fighter. While he accepted the social hierarchies of the time, including slavery itself until the latter part of his life, he shows no humility (except in terms of his spiritual condition). When he proposes to another person that he work for him as a servant, you get the feeling that he has just given that person an honor.
Equiano's autobiography is important for many other reasons. It is very much a book of its time, the late 18th century, when spiritual autobiographies were important both to the writers and the readers. (Make sure that when you buy an edition of this book you do not buy an edition that has been abridged, as the account of Equiano's religious/spiritual development is what has been cut, making hamburger of what remains). He has wonderful, sometimes acid, comments, to make on the churches he observes at the time. For example, here's his comment on a church service run by the Rev. George Whitfield, at which people are crowding out into the yard and standing on ladders to see into the church: "When I got into the church I saw this pious man exhorting the people with the greatest fervor and earnestness, and sweating as much as ever I did while in slavery....I thought it strange I had never seen divines exert themselves in this manner before; and was no longer at a loss to account for the thin congregations they preached to."
Equiano's autobiography is also a tale of his adventures: he served on board battle and merchant ships much of the time and saw action during the French and Indian war. He was also part of Phipps' search for a passge to India through the north pole, where their ship was frozen in ice just as Shackleford's was two centuries later.
And finally, Equiano's life and story become entwined with the British abolition movement. His book was intended to serve the movement, raising revulsion by demonstrating the cruel and unethical practices that rose from slavery and appealing to logic and the reader's sense of shame. He is one of the earliest writers to point out a psychological blindess in slave holders, the denial and the double vision they had to develop in order to justify themselves. The very existence of the book, written by a literate, very bright, and comfortably wealthy former slave put the lie to the racist arguments that Africans were best suited to slavery. And in one part of the book that is reminiscent of Mary Wollestonecraft, he speaks passionately that the ignorance and helplessness that was so striking in so many slaves had nothing to do with nature, and everything to do with social conditioning.

The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother
The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother
by James McBride
Edition: Paperback
94 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars a book about understanding, Aug. 12 2003
As I read along, I realized that something odd was happening. McBride was writing about his mother after he had come to peace with her. It was an odd feeling. His book is honest--his mother is not sugar-coated or idealized. But her failings are described with an understanding humor, and while he makes it clear that he himself had trouble along his way, the trouble is not what the book is about. Maybe I couldn't have noticed this if I were younger. The story itself is moving and well written, the character of his mother highly believeable, but what touched me the most is that this is what a relationship looks like after you have battled, self-destructed, loved, hurt, and all the rest, through to understanding and acceptance.

Palestine Collection
Palestine Collection
by Joe Sacco
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 25.13
48 used & new from CDN$ 19.48

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more objective than on first impression, April 3 2003
This review is from: Palestine Collection (Paperback)
You have to read Palestine carefully, especially if you are either strongly sympathetic or hostile to Israel. It would be easy to see the book as condemning Israel. It is not, but since Sacco's intention was to get to know the community that we in the US don't know well, the Palestinians, the book shows mainly their experiences and interpretations of them. (It would have been a good idea to include a timeline of the historical events related to the Israel/Palestine tragedy, so that people who do not know the facts could put into perspective the versions of history that Sacco's Palestinian interviewees have.)
I emphasize that this is not the book to turn to in order to figure out whether to side with the Israelis or the Palestinians. It does not give that kind of information, and there are other books for that (Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem is a good one). For the most part there are no terrorists or major political figures interviewed and there is no survey of the historical background, the mistakes and crimes that have left both peoples in this mess. What I saw in this brilliant piece of comic journalism is an on the ground look at what is going on with people caught in the storm.
Palestine is about the human spirit, often humorous and courageous. It is also about the tragedy that is what happens when people suffer at each other's hands, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, as well as physically, and lose the ability to see the human face.
Victims turn into villains. The scenes of the settlers attacking the Arab villages at night reminded me chillingly of Kristalnacht. A 16 year old Palestinian terrorist-in-training is chilling as he describes his recruitment at 13, his loss of interest in anything but the violence, and the version of history that he believes in. Sixteen year old settlers strutting through town with their Uzis are just as chilling. You are appalled by them all, and by the societies that have turned children into murderers. And you are touched by the crowd scenes, where you see tiny figures of men and women in the background, hurrying their children away, keeping them away from the stone throwing crowds.
You see the mythologies that both sides, though mainly (because of the nature of the book) the Palestinians, have created in order to give themselves pride and explain all the pain. You see that these mythologies are not going to save anyone.
Sacco does not idolize his Palestinian subjects, though he is very sympathetic to most of them. He shows the irrational hatred, the elevation of victimhood to almost divine status, and the self-destructiveness of some of the people he interviewed. He really likes the children, especially inquisitive little girls, but he shows that there are some nasty kids too. I emphasize that he likes these people, despite their human failings. Their errors do not mean they are to be dismissed, just as their suffering does not mean that the lines on which Arab politicians have chosen to explain the situation are right. It was Sacco's irony, actually, that allowed me to trust his observations of life in an occupied region, with all that "occupied" implies.
The most troubling part to the book, therefore, was the portrayal of the Israeli soldiers. I wish that he had interviewed Israeli soldiers, since they (and settlers) are the only Israelis present in the Palestian refugee camps, and the soldiers come off looking brutal much of the time. But in looking through the book a second time, I noticed that many of the soldiers looked terrified. This terror coupled with the brutality throws another light on the tragedy afflicting both Israelis and Palestinians.
I've been left haunted by one particular image, the depressed face of his last guide, an educated, unemployed volunteer with a school for the handicapped. It is not a dramatic, self dramatizing depression. Sacco's skill is impressive here, as he shows the man's face change, subtly, according to what is going on (sad tales, checkpoints, the charming chatter of a 10 year old girl)--he has other feelings, but his hopelessness has smothered the intensity.

The PMS Outlaws: An Elizabeth MacPherson Novel
The PMS Outlaws: An Elizabeth MacPherson Novel
by Sharyn McCrumb
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
34 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Several stories told, Sept. 27 2001
This is my second McCrumb novel, and the second one in which the hapless Bill buys property. It made me wonder whether he does that in every novel. I like McCrumb so much that I'm going to go back to read the rest in sequence. The various plots and subplots were interesting, though I agreed with an earlier reviewer that the PMS outlaws' escapades seemed weakly motivated. Still, the incident that started it all was quite satisfying.

Murder Carries a Torch
Murder Carries a Torch
by Anne Carroll George
Edition: Hardcover
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars An Ear for Speech, Sept. 27 2001
This review is from: Murder Carries a Torch (Hardcover)
I'm not a Southerner, but I know southerners, and so part of the charm of this book was the wonderful expressions southerners come up with. The book is intelligently and warmly written, humorous, beautiful descriptions of nature that don't bog it down. A nice detail is that one of the characters has had a mastectomy, and her approach to reconstruction was, to me, appealing. My only quibble is that the world of religious snake handling was only superficially skimmed.

A Little Class on Murder
A Little Class on Murder
by Carolyn Hart
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.99
50 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Bibliography, Sept. 27 2001
You have to like mysteries about the field of mysteries or else the numerous allusions to other mysteries could be annoying. You do NOT need to have read other mysteries to read this one, however. The writer uses other titles to make comparisons, generally. I found it all fascinating and am whiling away a medical leave ordering titles I find mentioned. There are some real classics, many out of print but available used, that I never would have thought to look for. Hart's allusions extend outside the mystery field to jurisprudence, biography, and journalism, but the real meat is the mystery bibliography. The actual mystery is interesting, with lots of list writing and puzzling, livened up with eccentric characters. I particularly liked a very minor character, a befuddled student in a class on Mysteries who had never read one. One puzzle--why teach a course on mysteries in a journalism department? Only vaguely explained. An earlier reviewer mentioned bad language which puzzled me. I didn't notice any.

The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme
The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme
by John Keegan
Edition: Paperback
81 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic, Sept. 1 2000
I came across a review of Keegan in the NY Review of Books and picked him up for my 16 year old son, a military history buff, so that he could enjoy some intelligent military history and good writing. Not to be left behind, I'm reading Keegan too. He is a rare breed--his writing is excellent, clear and humane, soemtimes even poetic, yet academic as well---detailed and thoughtful. He is honest about war, which is refreshing, and not defensive about it, which is also refreshing. The book's purpose is to explore the individual's experience of battle at different historical periods--starting with the battle of Agincourt and ending with the battle of the Somme. It made vivid and concrete what had always been abstact or unthinkable for me. It illuminates strategy--how to achieve an end with an army composed of humans, not robots. It also asks important questions about how technology has come to move soldiers out of actual close-up battle and what that implies for modern warfare.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
by Jung Chang
Edition: Paperback
92 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, May 28 2000
I had never heard of this book when I picked it off the "China" shelf in the bookstore--I just wanted to read about Mainland China so that I could know a little more about someone I tutor in English. I was mesmerized. One strength of the book (besides the author's passion and her beautiful writing) is that you understand each of the 3 generations in the context of the others. The grandmother's world, China in the '20's, suggests why the communists (or something like them) were necessary and how deeply Mao betrayed that necessity. I knew very little about the Cultural Revolution except what appeared in the papers--now I see how crucial it is for us all to know the details, from people who were there. Read Hannah Arendt's Totalitarianism in light of Mao--it's all there.

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