Another winner from Abdurraqib, a writer always worth paying attention to.

A LITTLE DEVIL IN AMERICA

NOTES IN PRAISE OF BLACK PERFORMANCE

A thoughtful memoir rolled into a set of joined essays on life, death, and the Black experience in America.

Black women, it’s been said, saved American democracy by delivering their votes to the Democratic Party in 2020. Poet, essayist, and music critic Abdurraqib is having none of it. “Black people—specifically Black women in this case, are not here in this country as vessels to drag it closer to some moral competence,” he writes. Later, he adds, “it occurred to me that Black women were simply attempting to save themselves.” The point is well taken. The chapters open with flowing stream-of-consciousness introductory passages—e.g., “I was the only one in the Islamic Center on Broad Street who got to stay up & watch the shows on MTV that came on after my parents cut out the lights & went up to bed & it was only me & the warmth of an old television’s glow & the DJs spinning C+C Music Factory for people in baggy & colorful getups”—and then settle in to tightly constructed, smart essays—in this case, about the history of marathon dancing, the exhilarating contributions but tragic life of Soul Train host Don Cornelius, the deaths of both his mother and Aretha Franklin, and numerous other subjects. In another essay, Abdurraqib considers the concept of the magical negro and the unenviable role of being the Black friend who provides an escape route for White racism. Here, comedian Dave Chappelle figures prominently, having become a huge draw for Comedy Central precisely because it gained a huge White audience: “Chappelle got to be everyone’s Black friend for a while,” writes the author. “The one that stays at a comfortable enough distance but still provides a service.” Social criticism, pop culture, and autobiography come together neatly in these pages, and every sentence is sharp, provocative, and self-aware.

Another winner from Abdurraqib, a writer always worth paying attention to.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984801-19-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A tender, well-rendered, heart-wrenching account of the way food ties us to those who have passed.

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CRYING IN H MART

A MEMOIR

A poignant memoir about a mother’s love as told through Korean food.

Losing a parent is one thing, but to also lose direct ties to one’s culture in the process is its own tragedy. In this expansion of her popular 2018 New Yorker essay, Zauner, best known as the founder of indie rock group Japanese Breakfast, grapples with what it means to be severed from her Korean heritage following her mother’s battle with cancer. In an attempt to honor and remember her umma, the author sought to replicate the flavors of her upbringing. Throughout, the author delivers mouthwatering descriptions of dishes like pajeon, jatjuk, and gimbap, and her storytelling is fluid, honest, and intimate. Aptly, Zauner frames her story amid the aisles of H Mart, a place many Asian Americans will recognize, a setting that allows the author to situate her personal story as part of a broader conversation about diasporic culture, a powerful force that eludes ownership. The memoir will feel familiar to children of immigrants, whose complicated relationships to family are often paralleled by equally strenuous relationships with their food. It will also resonate with a larger audience due to the author’s validation of the different ways that parents can show their love—if not verbally, then certainly through their ability to nourish. “I wanted to embody a physical warning—that if she began to disappear, I would disappear too,” writes Zauner as she discusses the deterioration of her mother’s health, when both stopped eating. When a loved one dies, we search all of our senses for signs of their presence. Zauner’s ability to let us in through taste makes her book stand out from others with similar themes. She makes us feel like we are in her mother’s kitchen, singing her praises.

A tender, well-rendered, heart-wrenching account of the way food ties us to those who have passed.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-65774-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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