MixedThe New York Times Book Review... [a] riveting, painstaking and at times maddeningly overextended meditation on a subject that has vexed human society at least since the dawn of consciousness ... Makari, a psychiatrist and historian, weaves together a fascinating if powerfully disturbing series of examples of stranger hatred (and exploitation) alongside the internal dissent such encounters have always prompted ... The humanizing spirit animating this book and anticipating whatever hard-won progress we can claim looking backward from the 21st century was birthed in this genocidal calamity ... Throughout his analysis, Makari brings an impressive range of reading to bear, wearing his learning lightly and interspersing fascinating capsule biographies of transformational figures like Raphael Lemkin, Carl Schmitt and Theodor Adorno with literary commentary on Aldous Huxley, Richard Wright and James Baldwin ... All the material is enthralling. Yet the sheer number of points of access into a subject so all-encompassing eventually becomes a hindrance. By the last third of the book, as the narrative becomes a kind of At the Existentialist Café-style lightning tour of the postwar intellectual history of the Left Bank, the word \'xenophobia\' becomes almost meaningless.
Nicolas Mathieu, Trans. by William Rodarmor
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... deceptively simple ... Throughout this page-turner of a novel, there are elements of Michel Houellebecq’s suffocating atmospheres of Occidental decadence, rife with soul-crushingly pointless labor and leisure pursuits and the impossibility of meaningful interpersonal bonds. There is also a whiff of Camus’s The Stranger, as the centuries-long confrontation between the white Frenchman and the Arab, the colonizer and the colonized, the native and the interloper ... As suffused with local color as this book is, parallels with left-behind swaths of America stand out on every page ... It is easy to see why this novel, which arrives just on time and contains the secret history of the current political upheaval, would find such critical acclaim. But it is a flawed artwork all the same — a somewhat ineptly translated narrative that incongruously balances raw pornographic sex scenes with the pacing, vocabulary and plot structure of saccharine Y.A. fiction. Its descriptive language can be comically bad, with phrases any creative writing instructor would banish from her class ... Mathieu’s melodramatic tale is mimetic almost to a fault of the smallness of the social conditions it seeks to convey. And yet, I couldn’t put the book down. I didn’t want it to end. What, exactly, is fiction for? I found myself wrestling with this question throughout. Certainly there is the Wildean argument of art for art’s sake, in light of which this work can be wanting, an example of the contemporary emphasis on content at the expense of craft. But there is also that other, mysterious appeal in which a story resonates in ways that even the most devastating sociology and journalism cannot. And that is what will keep me thinking of these unremarkable characters in this made-up town for a very long time.
Marie Ndiaye, trans. by John Fletcher
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThere will be no tidy resolutions or neat transitions in the telling of complicated lives ... NDiaye\'s prose can at times be complicated and borderline convoluted. She writes in long sentences that double back and digress. After a few pages, however, what at first may have seemed awkward starts to feel hypnotic - the repetitions create momentum, the digressions amass precision ... She is an impressive stylist with a strong voice, which John Fletcher has admirably preserved in this translation. More problematic is the overuse of heavy-handed symbolism relating to plants and birds, and in the case of Norah and Rudy, the too obvious outward manifestation of inward emotional states ... But these are minor quibbles in light of so compelling a novel - one that examines bravely and from both sides the collision of Europe and Africa (both as ideas and lived realities) and the significance this collision has had and continues to have on black and white lives.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"... heart-rending ... Woodfox’s description of the lengths these men go to in order to know and care for one another in the near complete absence of physical contact or even face-to-face communication amounts to some of the most touching writing on platonic male friendship I have ever encountered ... \'We must imagine Sisyphus happy,\' Camus famously wrote, and such a prompt is the ennobling virtue at the core of Solitary. It lifts the book above mere advocacy or even memoir and places it in the realm of stoic philosophy. Crucially, Woodfox is not a bitter man. He refuses to see himself as a victim. Ultimately, this allergy to self-pity allows him to grapple with the consequences and consolations of whatever agency — and dignity — can exist in even the most abhorrent and restricted circumstances.\
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe fracturing and castigating discourse around identity, coupled with metastasizing inequality of both opportunity and outcome, leads Egginton to make the necessary if familiar case that a humanities education—however out of fashion and reach for many Americans—is still the \'key in the formation of a public capable of democratic self-governance\' ... [Egginton] make[s] clear from a variety of angles is that if we are going to beat back the regressive populism, mendacity and hyperpolarization in which we are currently mired, we are going to need an educated citizenry fluent in a wise and universal liberalism.
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
PositiveThe New York TimesThe book, which expands on a widely circulated 2015 article in The Atlantic, identifies what the authors refer to as \'the three Great Untruths\' of the current moment: \'what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker\'; \'always trust your feelings\'; \'life is a battle between good people and evil people.\' It’s a moment profoundly reshaped in the sanitized image of the hyper-connected and -protected \'iGen\' generation (short for \'internet generation\'), which directly succeeds the millennials. Members of iGen, according to the psychologist Jean Twenge, who coined the term, are \'obsessed with safety,\' which they define to include expansive notions of \'emotional safety.\'
RaveThe London Review of BooksAlthough complex realities—racial, cultural, national—are a constant in Smith’s work, she isn’t obsessed with issues of identity, and some of the best moments in the new collection arise from wholly unfreighted encounters. Smith pays attention to everything around her, and her very amateurishness—that is to say the sheer enthusiasm that propels these essays—makes the combinations she lands on compelling. It is easy to say that Smith is a writer concerned with hybridity—there are many writers of whom that could be said. But I can’t easily think of anyone else who would think to weave a close reading of Schopenhauer’s On the Suffering of the World into a humorous and moving review of Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion movie Anomalisa ... Famous for half her life and now in her forties, Smith has become extremely good on the subject of getting older. In the book’s penultimate essay, ‘Find Your Beach’—sparked by a Corona advert glimpsed from her window—she contrasts her English and American selves ... I could identify only one passage in this 400-page book that rang false. Smith is almost always thoughtful and unpretentious ... But everywhere else in the book Smith’s commitment to exploring what it means to feel free, through experiences we have in common as well as alone, is contagious. We don’t need to experience the world exactly as she sees it, but we need something of that commitment.
Lawrence P. Jackson
PositiveHarper's...[an] exhaustive and fascinating biography ... Jackson, a fluid writer who has published vivid first-person essays in this magazine, mostly restrains himself here, allowing the startling facts of his subject’s life to speak for themselves. But if there is a flaw in the book, it is Jackson’s reliance on a somewhat pat determinism; the gender and color dynamics of Himes’s childhood home are too readily invoked to explain his behavior as an adult.
PositiveThe New Republic...[a] gripping biography ... while Noah is deft at exposing and ridiculing the incongruities and absurdities of a racist state, he never quite turns the corner into a full-fledged critique of the idea of race itself—something his own biography would seem to beg for ... Noah’s memoir relates, in vivid and moving terms, how his life prepared him for the public role he now occupies, drawing on his unique vantage point to cut through and illuminate our shared trauma.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleParker’s narrative strategy is as ambitious as it is bizarre: a chorus of 45 inanimate objects, ranging from a catheter in a hospital to a pair of shoes to a tourniquet, a bullet and even an IED, tell his story and help to universalize his trauma. The device is mostly powerful, allowing him to access scenes of extreme emotional intensity while avoiding sentimentality or self-pity ... Anatomy of a Soldier amounts to an unusually worthy addition to the growing body of veteran literature being produced by some of the men and women who have borne the brunt of the Coalition of the Willing’s forays into the Middle East.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleNovic writes about horrors with an elegant understatement. In cool, accomplished sentences, we are met with the gravity, brutality and even the mundaneness of war and loss as well as the enduring capacity to live.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleMia Alvar comes out swinging for the fences in her powerful first story collection about the Filipino diaspora — often exiled even at home — and doesn’t ever let up ... A stunning debut — without ever getting overly sentimental, page after page of In the Country is laced with such revelatory, unflinching truth.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleFlournoy paints a vivid picture of the embattled city across three African American generations ... It all comes to an explosive head one night when the siblings confront each other in the home they grew up in. Composed with deep sympathy — especially for the character of Lelah — The Turner House is an apt and engrossing response to Cha Cha’s tormented query: 'Why not give in to every impulse, break free and go insane...in a world where people made structures disappear overnight?'”
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleNow is probably as good a moment as any in our fickle American discourse for the publication of a thorough, unsentimental and painstakingly evenhanded account of the tortured and multigenerational dynamics plaguing our nation’s ghettos — and the senseless killings that so routinely occur in them, whether at the hands of the police or, as we are so frequently reminded, at the hands of other blacks. Fortunately, Jill Leovy has written such a book ... The power of Ghettoside, then is not primarily in the particularity of the Tennelle case but in the dizzying accumulation of such discrete deaths that she tacks onto it.
RaveThe Washington PostWhat Between the World and Me does better than any other recent book I can think of is relentlessly drive home the point that 'racism is a visceral experience' ... in this book he is firing on all cylinders, and it is something to behold: a mature writer entirely consumed by a momentous subject and working at the extreme of his considerable powers at the very moment national events most conform to his vision.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleGiven such potentially heavy-handed material, it’s to Greenidge’s great credit that she nonetheless manages to craft a full and sensitive portrait of an all-American family ... Greenridge has spun a touching and soulful story of race and inheritance and facing up to difference.
A. Igoni Barrett
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleThe incredible changes that transform Furo Wariboko’s body — and social standing — from black to white create numerous psychological shifts and dilemmas as well as opportunities...Meanwhile, there are other equally extreme transfigurations afoot in this sharp satire, including a character who becomes a voluptuous hermaphrodite. Barrett conjures a strange kind of Lagos, both fantastic and real — one that demands we think again about the ways in which appearance and identity intersect and conflict.
PositiveThe Washington Post...[Sciolino] has written her love letter with such ingenuous passion it’s hard not to cheer up.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleReed’s book is a wild, propulsive romp, filled with section titles such as, 'The author is put in an iron yoke,' and 'The convict’s jewelry consist of iron or brass.' A charismatic and idiosyncratic voice in perpetual rebellion, obsessed with hellfire and the seductive and self-sabotaging evils of 'novels' and 'masturbation,' Reed displays virtuosic gifts for narrative that, a century and a half later, earn and hold the reader’s ear. This remains true regardless of the veracity or sociological value of the tales he has so improbably recorded.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleGreenwell’s novel is an elegant and graphic depiction of gay male desire, written in supple, unsentimental prose.
MixedThe New RepublicIt is a brutally honest and efficient narrative engine that is fueled, so far at least, almost entirely at the expense of his Arab side, which is comprised of members who come across to varying degrees as violent, superstitious, prejudiced, unhygienic and irredeemably basic.