The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press 2019)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Kudlacz
…I am ashamed of America
And confounded by God….
It was these lines from the poem Foreday in the Morning in Jericho Brown’s third, Pulitzer Prize winning book The Tradition that captured the emotion I, as well as many other Americans, felt as we watched George Floyd die by asphyxiation when a police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while three other officers stood by. Ashamed and confounded not just by this singular outrageous and gross injustice, but by the fact that this sanctioned atrocity, involving another black American male, is a pervasive and persistent malady. This powerful book is built upon a foundation of poems in which Brown repeatedly forces us to confront the issue of racism in this country and the grim, indeed fatal, consequences that so often accompany it.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang (Riverhead Books 2020)
Review by Lane Berger
C Pam Zhang’s debut novel, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, follows a Chinese-American family without a name. Ma, Ba (father), Lucy, and Sam are immigrant, migrant, and the children thereof.
Divided into four a-chronological sections, the novel spans America’s Gold Rush Era. In Part One, Ba is dead, “And long gone, Ma.” But for Ba’s body and a stolen horse, Lucy and Sam are destitute when they set out to bury their father properly. While Lucy wills every step to take her away from her past, toward a white lace dress and civilization, Sam carries a disparate inheritance and disparate dreams. Begun as a journey to stay a spirit, the siblings take up the mantle of their parents’ search for self and home.
The White Card by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf 2019)
Reviewed by Olivia Cyr
There is perhaps no better political climate in which to revel in a book that explores race in America than the one the country is in now. As both a self-proclaimed feminist with a background in black women’s studies, and a white woman, I find that I am both well-versed on current conversations about race and women and where those intertwine, and also, admittedly, still terribly conditioned to accept and lean on my own white privilege. While I do follow much of the debate on abortion, women’s rights in the workplace, intersectionality, police brutality, immigration, and the unfair treatment of black people, there is still so much I do not know. I wonder often if my own whiteness does not allow for me to see the whole picture. I think many white folks in this country try, as Claudia Rankine’s characters Virginia and Charles appear to do, and think we are doing as much as we can with the resources available. But Rankine makes it apparent that we aren’t, simply because we are white.