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review 2019-09-22 17:02
A life of passionate activism
William Lloyd Garrison and the Humanitarian Reformers - Russel B. Nye

During the antebellum era a series of reform impulses coursed through the nation. From the 1830s to the 1860s, many Americans dedicated themselves to the causes of temperance, education, criminal justice reform, women's rights, and opposition to slavery in an effort to create a more moral and perfect nation. One of the leading voices in these efforts was William Lloyd Garrison, who for over three decades championed the goal of national reform from the pages of his newspaper The Liberator. In this short work Russel Nye provides an account of Garrison's life that assesses his activist career and its place in the broader spectrum of events in mid-19th century America.

 

As Nye explains, Garrison's rise to prominence required him to overcome considerable personal adversity. The son of a shipping master who abandoned his family, Garrison entered the newspaper profession at a young age through his apprenticeship as a printer. Garrison's religious convictions soon led him to the editorship of a Boston newspaper promoting temperance, and though the journal soon failed, it set Garrison on a cause of lifelong activism. While Nye notes that Garrison promoted a range of reform issues, it was at this point when he embraced the cause that would define his career: the abolition of slavery.

 

Garrison's embrace of abolition came at an especially unpromising time. By the late 1820s the initial belief that slavery would die out on its own had faded with the expansion of cotton cultivation. Though many advocated for its end, their emphasis was on a gradual phasing out of the "peculiar institution," coupled with recolonization of the freed slaves. By contrast, Garrison's passionate advocacy of immediate and total abolition marked him out as an unfashionable extremist. Initially a marginal figure, the outbreak of Nat Turner's rebellion soon after the launching of Garrison's newspaper The Liberator in 1831 led many Southerners to identify his extremist writings as its cause, giving Garrison a sudden prominence out of all proportion to the limited subscribership of his newspaper. Nye charts this odd duality over the next three decades of his life, showing how Garrison's uncompromising positions often traded broader support for a visibility that ensured him a leading role in the national discourse, one that he would maintain until the final abolition of slavery in 1865.

 

By situating Garrison within the often complex and ever-shifting politics of the antislavery cause, Nye defines clearly the scope of Garrison's achievements. Though he makes it clear that Garrison was just one voice in the abolition movement, Nye credits his subject with helping to define slavery as a moral issue in a way that contributed to its ultimate demise. It is this combination of detail and nuance that makes Nye's book an excellent introduction Garrison's life, one that still can be read profitably for the insights it provides into the labors of a committed advocate who never lost sight of his goal.

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review 2019-08-12 09:52
Inspiring, tough, appalling. A must read.
The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead

I thank NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

In brief, this is an extraordinary book. Beautifully written, haunting, it vividly portrays and era and a place (the early 1960s in Florida), and illustrates the very best and the very worst of human beings and their behaviour. Although everybody should know about the true story this book is inspired by, my only hesitation in recommending this book to all is that it is a tough read, and one that could upset people who have experienced abuse or violence or prefer not to read graphic accounts of those topics. (It is not extreme, in any way, in its depiction of violence and abuse, and much is left to the imagination of the reader rather than being unnecessarily and openly graphic, but then, my level of tolerance is quite high, so it might not be an indication of other readers’ opinion. On the other hand, it is emotionally harrowing, as it should be).

I had not read any of Whitehead’s books before but had heard and read many comments about his recent success with The Underground Railroad, and was keen to see what he would write next. Although I can’t compare the two, based on how much I have enjoyed this story and the style of writing, I am eager to catch up on the author’s previous novels.

I went into this book not having read reviews or detailed comments about it, other than the short description on NetGalley, and I was quickly drawn into the story. After the brief prologue, that sets up the scene and introduces what will become the main setting (and a protagonist in its own right) of the story, The Nickel Academy (previously, The Florida Industrial School for Boys, created in 1899, a reform school in serious need of reforms), we get to meet the two protagonists, first Elwood Curtis, an upstanding boy, determined to make his grandmother proud, a firm believer in Martin Luther King’s philosophy and speeches, a hard student and worker, and later Jack Turner, a boy with a more difficult background whom we meet during his second stay at Nickel. The interaction between the boys, the differences between them, the unlikely friendship that develops, and the ways their lives influence each other, not always evident as we read it, form the backbone of this novel, whose action is set mostly in a momentous era, the 1960s, and with the background of the Civil Rights Movement at its heart. Elwood’s determination to follow King’s dictates is sorely put to the test at Nickel, but he does learn much about himself and about the world there, including some things that should never happen to anybody, no matter their age or colour. Turner, a survivor who has been exposed to a much harsher reality than Elwood from the beginning, learns a new set of values and much more.

As I mentioned above, the story, narrated in the third person but mostly from the point of view of the two main characters (the novel is divided into different parts, and it is clearly indicated which point of view we are sharing), is beautifully written. It lyrically captures the nuances of the period and the place, using a richly descriptive style of writing that makes us feel as if we were there, experiencing the oppressive heat, the excitement of being a young boy going in his first adventure, the thrill of joining a heartfelt protest, the fear of Nickel, the dashed hopes… And later, we also touch base with the main character’s life at different points after Nickel, including the present, when he hears about the unearthing of the story, and we realise that, for him, it’s never gone away; it’s never become the past. The author intersperses the words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches, of James Baldwin’s stories, and, as he explains in the Acknowledgements’ section at the end, he also quotes from real life accounts from survivors of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, whose story inspired the setting and much of the story this book narrates. Although I didn’t know the story was based on a real place, I kept wondering about it as I read —it felt true, for sure—, and I was not surprised when my suspicions were unfortunately confirmed at the end. (The author provides plenty of links and information about the real story of Dozier and also includes a bibliography of the other sources he has used, which will prove invaluable to researchers and readers eager to find out more). The author’s use of quotes adds to the true feel of the novel while establishing a clear connection between this story and the troubled history of race (and to a slightly lesser extent class) relations in the USA. Although based on a real reform school, Nickel is a microcosm, a metaphor for the abuse and corruption that has marred not only the United States but many other countries, and a reminder that we must remain vigilant, as some things and behaviours refuse to remain buried and keep rearing their ugly heads in more ways than one. I, for one, will not hear talk about the White House and not think about quite a different place from now on.

The characters are compelling, easy to empathise with, and one can’t help but root for these young men who find themselves in impossible circumstances. Some are complicit in the abuse, some mere victims, but most are just trying to survive. As for the perpetrators… There’s no attempt at explaining why or how it happened. This is not their story. Their story has been the official History for far too long.

Apart from all I’ve said, there’s quite a twist towards the end of the story, which casts a new light on some of the events and on the relationship between the two boys, clarifying some questions that are left answered as the story progresses. This is not a mystery or a thriller as such, but the twist introduces an element of surprise that, at least for me, increased the power of the narrative and the overall effect of the story. The compelling plot of the novel is perfectly matched by the masterly way it is told.

I highlighted a lot of passages from the novel, but I thought I’d share the opening, and another paragraph from the preamble, to give you a taster. (As I mentioned, mine is an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final published version).

Even in death the boys were trouble. (A fantastic opening line that will become one of my favourites from now on).

When they found the secret graveyard, he knew he’d have to return. The clutch of cedars over the TV reporter’s shoulder brought back the heat on his skin, the screech of the dry flies. It wasn’t far off at all. Never will be.

A great novel, inspiring, appalling, tough, lyrical, fitting homage to the victims of a corrupt, merciless, and racist institution, and an indictment of the society that allowed it to exist.  Highly recommended, with the only reservations mentioned above about the subject matter.

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review 2019-08-03 23:37
THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead

This is one time I cannot give a short synopsis of the book because I would give the story away.  I didn't know what to expect as I opened the book but I read the majority of it in one afternoon.  The Nickel Boys is well written.  I knew it would be a difficult book to read especially since I have been reading a lot of non-fiction lately about the prison system and the Jim Crow laws.  I expected it to be more graphic than it was.  It is different from Mr. Whitehead's The Underground Railroad--no magical realism in sight.  I am still absorbing so much of it as I write this.  It is a powerful piece of writing and should be on everyone's list to read sooner rather than later.

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review 2018-08-28 10:50
Wut und Negativität
The Skull Throne - Peter V. Brett

Sie fielen tief. Als ihr Duell auf Leben und Tod seinen Höhepunkt erreichte, stürzte der Tätowierte Mann Arlen Bales sich selbst und seinen Gegner Ahmann Jardir, selbsternannter Shar’Dama Ka, in den Abgrund. Doch ihr Sturz war kein Zufall, kein Akt der Verzweiflung. Arlen braucht Jardir. Er verfolgt einen wahnwitzigen Plan, um den Krieg gegen die Dämonen ein für alle Mal zu beenden. Er glaubt, dass sie ihre Streitigkeiten beilegen müssen, um wie früher mit vereinten Kräften zu kämpfen. Können Arlen und Jardir Jahre der Enttäuschung und des Grolls im Namen der Menschheit hinter sich lassen?
Unterdessen versinken die Völker Krasias und des Nordens im Chaos. Erbitterte Machtkämpfe destabilisieren den zerbrechlichen Frieden. Krasia steht am Rande eines Bürgerkriegs um den Schädelthron, den vielleicht nicht einmal Jardirs durchtriebene Ehefrau Inevera verhindern kann. Im Norden bemühen sich Leesha und Rojer, die Herzogtümer Angiers und Miln zur Einigkeit zu bewegen, aber als Jardirs ältester Sohn mit seinen Truppen in Lakton einfällt, verhärten sich die Fronten. Von der Hitze des Krieges überwältigt drohen die Völker zu vergessen, wer ihr wahrer Feind ist…

 

Menschen sind dumm. Ich weiß, kein sehr positiver Ansatz für den Beginn einer Rezension, aber ich habe das dringende Bedürfnis, meinem Verdruss Luft zu machen. Ich ärgere mich maßlos über die niederschmetternd realistischen Entwicklungen, die uns Peter V. Brett im vierten Band des „Demon Cycle“, „The Skull Throne“, präsentiert. Wie kann man nur so dämlich sein, sich auf interne Kämpfe um Macht und Einfluss einzulassen, wenn Dämonen an die Tür klopfen? Arlen und Jardir werden nicht grundlos „Einiger“ genannt. Ohne ihre Autorität bricht die oberflächliche Einigkeit ihrer Völker zusammen und die schwelenden Konflikte eskalieren. Sie verkennen die Bedrohlichkeit der Situation, zeigen einen beschämenden Unwillen zur Veränderung und weigern sich, zurückzustecken, um zusammenzuarbeiten. Es ist zum Haare raufen. Ich wollte eingreifen und den Figuren Verstand einbläuen. Während sich die politische Elite um die Thronfolge in Krasia und um die Vorherrschaft über die Herzogtümer im Norden prügelt, leidet das einfache Volk unter ihren Entscheidungen. Peter V. Brett involvierte zwei neue Blickwinkel, die die Auswirkungen des Machtgerangels aus der Froschperspektive zeigen: die Sharum’ting Ashia und den jungen Spion Briar. Ich mochte beide gern, für Ashia schlägt mein feministisches Herz allerdings ein wenig lauter. Als weibliche Krieger sind die Sharum’ting im strikten Patriarchat Krasias eine revolutionäre Neuheit, die Inevera anstieß. Sie begründete diese Kaste nicht uneigennützig, erwies den Frauen ihres Volkes damit jedoch einen unschätzbaren Dienst. Zum ersten Mal in der jahrtausendealten Geschichte Krasias können Frauen durch die Tötung eines Dämons die gleichen Rechte wie Männer einfordern. Leider ist die äußerst konservative, traditionsbewusste Bevölkerung für Jardirs und Ineveras weitreichenden Reformen noch nicht bereit. Kämpfende Khaffit, kämpfende Frauen – sie erwarteten zu schnell zu viel von ihrem Volk. In Jardirs Abwesenheit flammt der Widerstand gegen die gesellschaftlichen Erneuerungen auf und trägt zur Instabilität Krasias bei, die Jardirs Söhne ausnutzen, um den Schädelthron zu beanspruchen. Allen voran der Erstgeborene Jayan. Ich weiß nicht, was in Jayans Erziehung schiefgelaufen ist, aber er ist zu einem widerwärtigen, grausamen Menschen herangewachsen, den man auf keinen Fall auf einem Thron sehen möchte. Um seine Machtübernahme zu verhindern und sich vor seinen Unterstützern zu schützen, geht Inevera eine weise, hochspannende Allianz ein: sie verbündet sich mit Abban. Ich hatte meine wahre Freude daran, zu erleben, wie dieses tödliche Duo trotz ihrer offensichtlichen Animositäten gemeinsam agiert. Ich finde es interessant, wie kontrastierend Peter V. Brett die Thematik des Überwindens alter Feindseligkeiten in „The Skull Throne“ nutzt. Inevera und Abban, Jardir und Arlen, selbst Leesha und Renna (die ich immer noch nicht mag) finden zu einem überraschenden Waffenstillstand für das höhere Wohl. Was im Kleinen möglich ist, scheitert im großen Rahmen kolossal. Dieser Kontrast potenzierte meine ohnmächtige Wut auf die kleingeistigen Machthaber, die einfach nicht begreifen wollen, was auf dem Spiel steht. Insofern war die Lektüre definitiv einzigartig, denn ich erinnere mich nicht, dass mich ein hervorragender High Fantasy – Roman jemals so zornig stimmte. Ich frage mich, ob Brett diese ungewöhnliche emotionale Resonanz beabsichtigte.

 

Ich erlebte eine sehr seltsame Leseerfahrung mit „The Skull Throne“. Denke ich an die Lektüre zurück, beschleichen mich überwältigende Gefühle von Wut und Negativität. Natürlich gefiel mir dieser vierte Band, denn er ist hochpolitisch, intelligent und illusionslos. Objektiv störten mich maximal kleinere Schönheitsmakel, wie die unausgeglichene Strukturierung, die Leesha meinem Empfinden nach mehr Raum als allen anderen Hauptfiguren zugestand oder eine Szene mit Rojer und seinen Ehefrauen, die mir moralisch fragwürdig erschien. Trotz dessen beeinflussten mich die inhaltlichen Entwicklungen der Geschichte so stark, dass ich zwar gefesselt war, aber keinen richtigen Spaß am Lesen hatte. Es wirkte alles so demoralisierend, besonders angesichts der Ausgangssituation für den finalen Band „The Core“: innerhalb der Völker grassiert weitreichende Uneinigkeit, die Spannungen zwischen ihnen führten zum Krieg und die einzigen, die die Geschlossenheit der Menschheit wiederherstellen könnten, haben sich verkrümelt, um einen selbstmörderischen Plan zu verfolgen. Tja. Keine rosigen Aussichten. Ich kann im Moment kein Potential für das Happy End erkennen, das ich mir wünsche. Ich hoffe, dass es Peter V. Brett gelingt, mich eines Besseren zu belehren. Ich möchte mich positiv an den „Demon Cycle“ erinnern.

Source: wortmagieblog.wordpress.com/2018/08/28/peter-v-brett-the-skull-throne
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review 2018-07-27 01:05
Mini-review of "Flunked" (Fairy Tale Reform School, #1) by Jen Calonita
Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School) - Jen Calonita

This was just a fun, middle grade romp.  I really enjoyed and will be reading more in the series.

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