MixedThe Washington PostThe most dynamic storyteller at the most interesting cocktail party could scarcely achieve more than Eve Fairbanks has achieved in The Inheritors: An Intimate Portrait of South Africa’s Racial Reckoning. How this achievement lands with readers will depend on whether they want more than storytelling from a book on this topic ... As these lives unspool languorously across the book’s 34 chapters, the post-apartheid world comes vividly into focus. The main characters’ stories branch into stories about other people, and from there into wonderfully accessible summaries of South African history, politics and policy. Readers who already know something about the country will find helpful reminders and moving examples. Less-knowledgeable readers will find concise and engaging points of entry ... Fairbanks also shows considerable insight into the challenges of post-apartheid moral psychology. Her subjects grapple with racially freighted emotions like shame and guilt, pity and penitence, and she draws useful lessons from their efforts. A closer relationship to the vast scholarly literature on these issues wouldn’t hurt, but one happily exempts writers from scholarly specialization when their work provides other compensations ... Unfortunately, Fairbanks blocks the path to those compensations by clogging the book with secondary characters ... Their stories are richly drawn and often moving. But the book collects them haphazardly, and scatters them across chapters that are uniformly (with one exception) and uninformatively named for one of the three main characters. One comes away wishing for more authorial guidance about how to thematize these narrative riches ... A more equitable intimacy might have led Fairbanks to say more about why she went to South Africa and how she met her characters. (We never find out, on either score).
RaveThe Washington PostThe thing about preaching...is that persuasion is not its principal aim. Often, the goal is to send churchgoers back into the world renewed, perhaps edified but surely fortified for the trials that await. This is what one gets from McGhee’s stunning, sobering, oddly hopeful book, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. She is not fishing for converts in a depleted sea. She is encouraging the faithful and equipping them for the kind of intellectual and spiritual journey that produced her book ... I don’t know of another book that weaves together the many strands of our racialized policy, politics and culture this elegantly and clearly ... Legions of people already accept some version of McGhee’s diagnosis, beginning with other readers of Du Bois. But many of them don’t know what to do with it, or what it means in policy terms, or whether it leaves any room for hope in a world of people willing to treat others as an infestation. The Sum of Us begins to answer these questions, thereby equipping the faithful to act on the good news even in a world that isn’t yet ready to hear it.
Mychal Denzel Smith
RaveWashington Post... small but indispensable ... America’s troubled times require action, to be sure. But that action begins with imagining oneself differently. This often requires more words, not fewer, which makes writers like Smith a precious resource for ethical reflection ... The book is dotted with tight, eloquent passages ... Smith’s book is about [...] remembering and achieving more productive and revolutionary exercises of the imagination. It begins in dismay and grapples with fear. But it engages this moment with intelligence and courage, and invites its readers to do the same.
PositiveThe Washington PostWilderson’s ambitious book offers its readers two great gifts. First, it strives mightily to make its pessimistic vision plausible. Anyone unconvinced by the vision may find this a dubious contribution, but enough people have been convinced by the view to make an accessible introduction to it a valuable resource just for understanding contemporary intellectual life. Second, the book depicts a remarkable life, lived with daring and sincerity ... The main challenge of the book may be that it offers both these gifts at once. It wraps its critical theory in a memoir, in a way that means for both elements to be mutually supporting. The narrative vividly establishes the need for theoretical intervention, and the theory provides keys to understanding the narrative ... This simultaneous commitment to analysis and to narrative sometimes pulls the book in opposite directions. Paragraphs that could have helped develop a scene instead crank up the theoretical machinery. Energy that could have been spent translating jargon into normal prose goes instead into setting up a metaphor. One can almost hear the gears grinding as the book shifts from one mode to the other ... Reading the book felt a bit like returning to the culture wars of the late 20th century ... I confess that Afropessimism strikes me as a refusal of the possibilities that make \'fighting on\' conceivable ... If so, I’ll simply commit to admiring the economy and the poetry of his provocations.