A bracingly provocative collection perfect for our times.

CONDITIONAL CITIZENS

ON BELONGING IN AMERICA

The award-winning novelist gathers eight essays that examine the meaning of citizenship in 21st-century America.

Drawing on history, politics, and her own personal experience, Lalami, a creative writing professor and American Book Award winner, explores the “contradictions between doctrine and reality” that problematize what it means to be an American. To make her points, she uses the concept of “conditional citizenship,” a state of partial (and revocable) acceptance/integration into American society based on factors such as race and faith. In the opening essay, “Allegiance,” Lalami writes about the frightening attitudinal changes she witnessed as a new Muslim American citizen in the wake of 9/11. Suddenly, the “slice of citizenship apple pie” she had been extended was withdrawn as hate crimes against law-abiding Muslim Americans spiked and presidential bans against certain nations eventually became a new normal. The author reminds readers how white supremacist attitudes have always existed by recalling the historical treatment of other nonwhite communities. In “Inheritance,” Lalami extends the concept of conditional citizenship to include not only nonwhites and non-Christians but also nonmales. Even in the U.S., women are often told to be grateful for the rights they have. The author convincingly argues that such attitudes “subtly discourage” women from achieving equality with men and accessing the full citizenship they deserve. In “Borders,” she goes on to emphasize the fragility of all American citizenship. She reveals how the U.S. has 136 internal checkpoints within 100 miles of its geographical borders and how the 200 million Americans living in those zones could be subject to deportation if they “fail to persuade [border patrol] agents” that they are citizens. While walls may seem to offer security, as Lalami points out, the climate change that “unfettered industrialization” has created will eventually render both walls and checkpoints useless. Consistently thoughtful and incisive, the book confronts the perils of our modern age with truths to inspire the coalition-building necessary to American cultural and democratic survival.

A bracingly provocative collection perfect for our times.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4716-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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