“A true tour de force.”—The New York Times Book Review
Reviews & Recommendations
Anyone familiar with Kehinde Wiley’s art will readily grasp the core message of Laurence Ralph’s ethnography, which draws inspiration from Wiley’s work in seeking to restage urban African American men within fields of power from which they are often presumed to be excluded. Taking up residence in one of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods, Ralph chronicles the daily struggles of a familiar cast of characters—gangsters and grandmothers, pastors and activists—in painterly prose. This intimate portrait of race, place and pain vitally complicates the debate on urban violence, sketching its many guises and the 'resilience it takes for black Chicagoans to keep dreaming anyway.' Empathetic, timely, and superbly written, Ralph’s account is ethnography at its best—a testament to hope and a work of art.
It seems almost too easy to select a recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for a staff recommendation, but Be With is worthy of the accolades it has garnered. A fellow EBBCo staff member introduced me to Gander's work a couple of months ago, and I've been quietly devouring his oeuvre ever since. In this collection we find some of Gander’s central concerns and original contributions distilled, by the sudden death of his wife, poet CD Wright, into a visceral lament: a life is at once biological and social, "exquisitely singular" and intimately plural, grief shatters all. In the opening poem he writes, You lug a bacterial swarm / in the crook of your knee…Who is ever only themselves? Has ever a more devastatingly beautiful elegy been penned?
Full of acid wit and bruised humor, this is O’Connor entering the height of her power. The narrative centers upon Hazel Motes—a WWII veteran returning to his native South on a government pension—in his ill-fated attempts to dodge salvation. Drafted during the onset of O’Connor’s lupus, violence appears more gnarled and feverish here than in any of the shorts for which she is most beloved. It simmers below the skin of the story, flaring up in quick angry pulses, before finally erupting in a lather of spiritual torment. Upon reaching the book’s close, I suggest one follow the advice of another awe-struck reader: place it down with care and step back slowly, lest it burst into flames in your hands.
In this novel, the trauma of the Holocaust and the more insidious violence of life in its wake are viewed obliquely through the intelligent eyes of its eponymous character—a soft-spoken academic struggling to remember his life prior to arriving orphaned and alone in England in 1969 to be raised by a Welsh minister and his wife. Like all of Sebald's novels before it, Austerlitz is set in post-war Europe. And yet, the narrative seems to unfold at less specific coordinates, where concrete rubble and marble archways hum with all the vibrancy of a natural ecosystem, and common moths are rendered cloaked and collared "like elegant gentlemen on their way to the opera." The more exacting Austerlitz and the narrator are in pursuing his genealogy, the more groundless reality appears. Ultimately, this is a novel about the violence of history’s attempt to impose coherence on memory, and to render the past passed. It remains one of the most beautifully haunting novels I've read.