41 search results for "go tell it on "

Go tell it on the mountainJames Baldwin once remarked that the story of Black America was America’s story and believe that it was impossible to separate the two.  Nearly all of this nation’s major events are in some way related to the plight of America’s minorities.  The country that is the land of immigrants becomes more of a melting pot with each passing week.  The recent documentary “13th” highlighted the system of mass incarceration that has resulted in America having the largest prison population of anywhere in the world and millions of young Black and Hispanic men and women being placed behind bars for extended sentences based on convictions for trivial crimes.  At the heart of the African-American experience is the precarious state of the immediate family structure and the constant discord that exist.

Those familiar with Baldwin’s story will recognize that his life serves as some of the basis for the book. In fact, for most authors, personal experiences sometimes provide the best material.  In this story, we dive deep inside a blended family with a large closet of secrets and a son trying to figure out his place within this family. As the novel begins, we are introduced to the Grimes family who are making their way to the local storefront church for the day’s service. The parents are Elizabeth and Gabriel who have a family of four consisting of John the protagonist, Roy who takes after Gabriel and Sarah and Ruth, the two sisters who have strictly supporting roles in the story.  In fact, Ruth is baby and has no dialogue.  It is John’s fourteenth birthday and he finds himself at a crossroads in his life as he tries to understand the path which he will take as he continues to mature.  As the story continues, we come to learn that Gabriel harbors an unusual resentment towards John and is frustrated over Roy’s increasingly rebel behavior and inability to accept the faith.  Faced with four mouths to feed, Gabriel is absent most of the time working to provide for his family. He drinks heavy and is physically abusive.  Elizabeth does not work and takes care of the children all day.  Gabriel’s sister Florence stops by and after her arrival the once contained feelings of animosity between brother and sister come rising to the surface. One day, Roy is knifed in a fight on the west side of Manhattan.  During the argument that ensues between the adults, Gabriel strikes Elizabeth and his actions set off a chain of events.  And at that point, we are told the background stories on each of the major characters.  What we learn is that many dark secrets surround the family, centering around Gabriel, the Reverend who is a man of the faith.  The revelation about his true connection to John is the crux of the book and critical to understanding Gabriel’s tragic character.

The lives of Gabriel, Florence and Elizabeth are further impacted by several deceased characters. Esther, Frank, Royal, Richard and Deborah fill in the blanks to the story and explain the present day situations that exist. Deborah and Esther in particular linger over the entire story and threaten Gabriel’s very existence.  Their appearances in the book and the events that follow underscore the importance of a stable home and the presence of a father in the home.  I firmly believe that Baldwin was making a very pointed statement about the issue. Gabriel’s position as a reverend also has a clear intention regarding the topic of religion which is a main theme in the book.  As we read we are required to examine our own religions beliefs and how they influence our actions or non-actions.  The African-American community remains strongly devout in Christianity and the Bible is viewed as the most important book to have in a household.  In fact, in my own home, the Bible was openly displayed and any interference with it was subject to a tongue lashing or sometimes worse.  Today in 2016, much is still the same in many homes and shows no signs of slowing down.  But a critical question we have to ask is does religion help or sometimes hinder?  And just how did it affect the characters in the book either positively or negatively?

The darker moments in the book give rise to a part of the story that could easily be overlooked.  The era of Jim Crow and often violent racial discrimination forced millions of Black Americans to relocate throughout the country as they scattered to leave the south. However, even in the north and other parts of the union, poverty and hatred continued to haunt recent emigrants . The fears and uncertainty are displayed in Richard’s character and his fate.  Baldwin pulls no punches in showcasing the disparity which plagued countless numbers of homes during that era and resulted in a system of dysfunction that permanently broke the Black family structure. And in the book we witness the characters struggle to keep the family together and in unison.  But when it seems that all is lost, the protagonist John becomes the hope of the family and the light at the end of the tunnel.  Elizabeth, Elisa and Florence serve as his guardian angels intent on preventing him from becoming another Gabriel and continuing the cycle that doomed prior generations. John realizes his potential, the truth about Gabriel and his demons and comes to terms with the fact that he will have to go tell it on the mountain.

ISBN-10: 0345806549
ISBN-13: 978-0345806543

 

 

Fiction

20200519_212040One of the things that I love about books is that there are so many that I have yet to read.  Many of them will be classics that I will never forget.  I had always been aware of Ralph Ellison (1914-1994) but remained in the dark about this classic book which was published in 1952.  I noticed that I had it on my shelf and decided to see for myself why it remains so highly regarded. Having finished the book, I now understand why Ellison was ahead of his time and why this book is still relevant to this day.

The main character is the invisible man who begins by explaning that he lives in the basement of a building and gets his electricity by tapping into a power source.  We are not sure why he is in the basement or for how long he will be there.  He has very keen observations about society and its inablity to see him for the man that he is.  It is clear that he has a story to tell and to do that he first tells us the story of his time in college.  The short story about the incidents involving Mr. Norton set the course for the rest of the book and each development occurs almost like a chain reaction.

One day he is assigned to drive a trustee around the campus, however Mr. Norton as we soon learn,  is not interested in the campus as he helped build the university.  Mr. Norton desires new sights and the two take a detour on the back roads outside of school grounds.  They soon encounter a farmer named Trueblood who has been ostracized by the larger community for an act which might make some readers recoil.  Mr. Norton is mesmerized by his story but the tale leaves him physically exhausted and he asks for whiskey to revive his spirits.   The duo continue to drive on eventually stopping at the Golden Day, a watering hole patronized by black students and others nearby.  However the bartender refuses to let the whiskey leave the premises and Mr. Norton is brought inside to be revived.  Once inside, he comes to and witnesses complete mayhem before once again becoming physically depleted. He is taken upstairs where he rests on a bed while a character names Supercargo tends to his condition.  Mr. Norton soon comes around and engages Supercargo in a discussion.  Towards the end, Supercargo turns slightly hostile and the pair leave hastily with Mr. Norton not exactly in the best condition. Upon arriving back at the school,  the invisible man is forced to tell Dr. Herbert Bledsoe that Mr. Norton had an incident.   Bledsoe is furious and although Norton is forgiving, Bledsoe tells him that he will give him a chance by sending him to New York to earn money for the following year’s school fees but that he is to leave school grounds in two days.

Ashe departs for New York,  the invisible man finds himself on the bus with Supercargo and another passenger named Crenshaw.  They engage in discussion and we learn that Supercargo is being transferred to Washington D.C. Crenshaw also gets off in Washington.  At first Supercargo seems to be just a rambling character but he gives the following advice which later proves to be accurate:

Come out of the fog, young man. And remember you don’t have to be a complete fool in order to succeed. Play the game, but don’t believe in it — that much you owe yourself. Even if it lands you in a strait jacket or a padded cell. Play the game, but play it your own way — part of the time at least. Play the game, but raise the ante, my boy. Learn how it operates, learn how you operate — I wish I had time to tell you only a fragment. We’re an ass-backward people, though. You might even beat the game. It’s really a very crude affair. Really Pre-Renaissance — and that game has been analyzed, put down in books. But down here they’ve forgotten to take care of the books and that’s your opportunity. You’re hidden right out in the open — that is, you would be if you only realized it. They wouldn’t see you because they don’t expect you to know anything, since they believe they’ve taken care of that.

The invisible man arrives in New York with seven letters given to him by Dr. Bledsoe under the guise of finding a job.  Surprisingly, none of the people whom the letters are addressed to respond. So taking matters into his own hands, he decideds to see the last recipient, Mr. Ellison for himself.  However, Ellison’s son meets with him and in the course of their conversation, he drops a bomb that shatters the invisible man’s whole existence and sets him on the path that takes him to the very place we find him at the beginning of the book.

The invisible man be a country boy but he soon learns the ways of the north and through a shrewd act, lands a job at Liberty Paint in Long Island.  After a series of mishaps at Plant No. 1, he is sent down to the lower levels to work under Lucius Brockway. But a misunderstanding and accident lands the invisible man back in New York City where he meets Mary Rambo who is literally at the right place at the right time.  On a night out, he comes across an elderly black couple being evicted and gives a speech before the angry crowd surrounding the marshalls. His oratorical skills do not go unnoticed as soon he is approached by a mysterious character named Brother Jack who is part of the Brotherhood.  It is at this point in the book that the story picks up in speed significantly as he becomes more involved in the movement.

As I read through the second half of the book, I felt a chill go down my spine because although the book was published in the 1950s, the scenes that take place could have very well been written today.   The internal battles in the Brotherhood, brutality by the police, frustrated spouses and people trying to find themselves and sense of purpose form a toxic stew that threatens to consume anyone in its path.   The invisible man is by far the most talented of the Brotherhood and rises to become a hero to the people of Harlem, akin to the late Malcolm X (1925-1965).  However he is no Muslim nor does he seem to be religious at all.  He is simply committed to the Brotherhood and truly believes in what he is doing.  But every hero has an antagonist and in the story here, it is in the form of Ras the Exhorter, an extremist who believes in using violence when needed.  The battles between the Brotherhood and Ras were some of the chilling parts of the book and after the first encounter, it is clear that Ras will come back later in the story to wreak the havoc he so desperately seeks.

The invisible man continues to make a name for himself in-spite of petty jealousies within the organization.  And even when he focuses on the Woman Question while becoming familiar with Brotherood member George’s wife Sybyil,  he is at the top of his game intellectually.  But little by little the facade begins to crumble and the events surrounding Brother Clifton set the ball in motion for the book’s final act.  Clifton’s story is one that has played out across America over the years and some readers will simply feel a sense of digusts.  It is almost as if Ellison predicted these events and the rise of Black Lives Matter.  While I read the part about Brother Clifton, the hair on my neck stood up as I thought about the actions of law enforcement towards people of color.  Further, the response by the Brotherhood and private lecture by Brother Hambro serve as the catalysts that make the main character focus in on the concept of what it truly means to be invisible.

Towards the end of the book as the invisible man is attempting to part ways with Sybil for the night, a series of events occur in Harlem that bring everyting building up in the book to the surface and what transpires next is nothing short of shocking.  But it is critical to understanding the plight of the invisible man.  By the time the book finished, I felt as if I had just stepped off an aircraft on a long journey full of bumps and surprises.  The story is simply breathtaking and a critical look at American society.  And I find it be a testament to Ellison’s genius that his words here can still be applied to modern day America.  Great book. 

ASIN: B00BP0Q3SW

General Reading

HatfieldsIn American folklore, there are two families whose names are recognized as being part of what is arguably the longest running feud to have ever taken place in the United States.  The Hatfields and the McCoys have become ingrained in the American experience and the alleged feud between the two families has been re-told through films, documentaries, websites and books. In 2012, the History Channel released a multi-part miniseries about the feud starring Kevin Costner as William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield (1839-1921) and the late Bill Paxton (1955-2017) as Randolph “Ran’l” McCoy (1825-1914).  The series is highly rated but just how accurate was it?  And were the Tug Valley in West Virginia and Pike County in Kentucky, really that deadly in the late 1800s?  Thomas E. Dotson is a descendant of both families and here he rescues history and sets the record straight about what really did happen between the years of 1882 and 1888.  And what he reveals will undoubtedly change the way you view the “feud” between the two famous families.

Dotson takes a different approach here and instead of re-telling the story, he examines other sources of information that have been published or released that have contributed to the often repeated “official” story about the conflict.   There is no official narrative here, the purpose of the book is correct information that is simply inaccurate.  Urban legends and published works have led many of us to believe that the conflict began over the issue of a stolen hog from Randolph McCoy and that as a result, blood was shed in large numbers, turning the Tug Valley into a shooting gallery.  Admittedly, the story is sensational and its seductiveness has allowed many to fall victim to misinformatio.  However, through hindsight, Dotson’s work allows us to go back in time and take another look at the “deadly” conflict.

The amount of research that went into this book is nothing short of staggering.  Dotson means business here and has had enough of the lies and omissions that have persisted for more than one hundred years.  I have seen the reviews of some readers on Amazon, who complained that the author did not tell the story as it happened. However, Dotson does tell the story, just not in the conventional format. By going back and breaking down the myths, the story is re-told, one section at a time.  And by halfway through the book, a clear picture of the origin of the tensions between the two families is clearly evident. The death of Ellison Hatfield on August 1, 1882 in Pike County, Kentucky, is widely accepted as the beginning of the conflict.  But as Dotson shows us, the seeds of discord were sown many years before, going all the way back to the Civil War.  Further, the tensions between the two were only a part of a much larger battle being waged between many high-powered figures over land, money and the settling of old grudges.

Surely, some secrets of the conflict have been lost over time as those who were alive at the time have long been deceased.  But their heirs and official records that have survived, give us a clearer picture of the mindset of both families during the time and refute myths about the events that were supposed to have taken place.  Dotson rectifies those long held beliefs, dissecting them like an expert surgeon. For more than a century, the alleged theft of a hog has been the referred to as the start of the troubles.  But what Dotson shows is that there was far more to the story than any of us could have imagined.  To the Hatfields and the McCoys that are now deceased, any notion of a feud probably would have been seen as ridiculous.  To be sure, the families did have their tensions but a feud in the sense that we think of might have seemed bizarre to them.

As I read the book,  I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the surreal amount of misinformation that has been propagated many forms of media.   Hollywood has always been known to take certain liberties with stories and Costner, while a great actor, was not responsible for every part of the production.  However,  I do believe that with the story of the Hatfield and the McCoys, the truth has been sacrificed for too many years while those responsible have profited greatly.  And the full story of what did happen has remained hidden until now.  Dotson is proud of his heritage and does an incredible job of presenting the truth while completely demolishing any perceptions that people from the Tug Valley are hillbillies obsessed with violence and illiterate. In fact, as can be seen in the book, it was the exact opposite in many places and the full story reveals a long running chest match that eventually did see a checkmate take place.

Perhaps one day, a film will be made that tells the story of the Hatfields and McCoys as it did happen, removing the fanfare and eliminating the tendencies of storytellers to embellish their accounts to be more appealing.  But until then, we can rely on this phenomenal compendium that tells the truth about what may be the greatest “non-feud” in history.

ASIN: ictB0s73V6B55d

American History

baldwinOn May 24, 1963, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy met with a group composed of authors and civil rights icons at his Central Park South apartment.  Among those in attendance were Lorraine Hansberry and her friend and fellow author, James Baldwin (1924-1987). The meeting quickly became volatile as the activists accused the Kennedy administration of dragging its feet on civil rights legislation. Their frustrations at the rampant discrimination in the United States and the inability of the government to take action, boiled over and Kennedy found himself in a hornet’s nest of raw emotion.  The meeting left a permanent mark in his memory but in time he would become a vocal advocate for equal rights for all American regardless of race, creed or gender.  His resurgence as the candidate of the poor and the downtrodden became the basis for his 1968 president campaign that ended tragically with his assassination in Los Angeles on June 5 ,1968.  Baldwin outlived Kennedy by nineteen years and today both are remember for their efforts to transform the American conscious and way of thinking.   In recent years, his work has been rediscovered and studied for its messages that were accurate then and are accurate now.   Baldwin’s public stance of many topics was blunt and non-confusing. He did not mince his words and his delivery was direct and always mean to stir thought.  But for all of his public actions, his private life is a story on its own that shows the author in a completely different light.  His friend for many years, David Leeming, wrote this biography of his late friend to show the world who the real James Baldwin was.  And what he has composed is a definitive account of the life of the late author.

The story of Baldwin’s life reads like a Shakespearean tragedy.  As a Black American born during the Jim Crow era and an openly homosexual, he was in unique position to observe the world classified under two groups of individuals openly persecuted in American society.  The New York native struggled to find himself and his journey in life took him back and forth across the ocean to Europe where he would find a second him in France.  And it was in France that he took his last breath after succumbing to the effects of a protracted battle with lung cancer.  During a visit to Istanbul, Turkey in 1968, he met Leeming and the two formed a friendship that lasted for the rest of his life.  Leeming was present when Baldwin passed and had also become close to Baldwin’s brother David who is featured throughout the book.

Homosexuality was a topic that Baldwin had no fear of addressing. His classic Giovanni’s Room tackles the taboo subject and did so at at time when such topics were only discussed in secrecy.  However the book breaches a subject to which millions of people can relate as they face the same struggle daily.  And when he wrote the all-time classic Go Tell It On The Mountain, he took us deep inside a blended family with a long history that continues to affect present day affairs. The book’s protagonist John, is forced to navigate this world as he finds his true calling in life.   The reality of his works is that his own personal experiences helped shape his literary accomplishments.  The same can be said about other authors such as Lorraine Hansberry, John Steinbeck Ernesto Che Guevara, M.D.  Baldwin’s personal life and his orientation proved to be his most difficult challenges and throughout the book we are witnesses to his enduring struggle to find true love.  In an ironic twist, the author who loved his people and his country, never found that love at home but instead traveled the world in search of it and himself.

Baldwin has been gone for nearly thirty years but I believe that in the next few years, his voice will become heard again as America continues to deal with discrimination.  The cause in which he enlisted is far from over but his voice remains to guide us along the way.  After reading this book, I felt inspired by his courage and gifts to us and ashamed for  not having known more about him prior to this.   For some he may come across as a radical too outspoken but for others, he is an icon and a voice of truth when most did not want to hear it. David Leeming has done a great service to his friend with this excellent biography with one of America’s greatest writers.

I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” – James Baldwin 

ISBN-10: 1628724382
ISBN-13: 978-1628724387

Biographies

chernobylThe Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plan was supposed to be the pinnacle of Soviet innovation and a testament to the drive inspired by the spirit of Lenin & Stalin.   Its very construction was intended to be a statement that the western powers were no match for their Soviet counterparts.  But on April 26, 1986, a meltdown at the Number Four reactor changed all of that and the course of world history.  Moscow moved quick to suppress any information coming out of the Soviet Union.  Initially the damage control was somewhat successful but before long, nuclear engineers in neighboring countries and across Europe realized that something was terribly wrong and all indicators pointed towards the Soviet Union.   Officials were forced to issue a public admission regarding the incident, setting off alarm bells across the globe.  I remember watching the news of the disaster with my parents and being in complete shock.  My father could only watch and shake his head in disbelief.  No one knew what would happen next but it was clear that this accident was unlike any that the world had ever seen before.

All hands were on deck as Soviet troops, doctors, engineers and plant workers scrambled to contain the damage.   Massive amounts of gamma rays were escaping by the minute and those in the immediate vicinity of the reactor absorbed lethal dosages of radiation that would later wreak havoc on their bodies and decimate the number of relief workers.  Years would pass before doctors and scientists fully understood the lasting effects of exposure to radiation at the plant.  However, even today there is still much about Chernobyl that remains hidden.  The second sarcophagus that covers the reactor opened on July 3, 2019 and time will tell if it is a permanent fix to contain the deadly amounts of radiation found within the buried reactor.

I have always wondered what happened to ordinary people that lived in Pripyat and surrounding areas.   We know that those who worked in the plant or were assigned cleanup and rescue jobs close to it, developed numerous health conditions that often resulted in death.  Author Adam Higginbotham captured the plight of workers at the plant in his phenomenal book, Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster.  Svetlana Alexievich was born in the Ukraine and raised in Belarus, one of the many former Soviet Social Republics.  In 2015 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and is known for her criticisms of the Soviet Union.  In this eye opening collection of personal accounts of life post-Chernobyl, she allows ordinary men and women to tell their stories of how Chernobyl changed their lives.  The filter is off and the people interviewed here are frank and unapologetic.  I caution the reader that the subject matter is graphic and the stories may send a chill down your spine.  But they are not here to make people feel good, they are telling the truth about life following the worst nuclear disaster in modern history.   Importantly, the author does not coach any of the people, she gives the green light and lets them tell us what they know and feel.

I believe that it goes without saying that any reader who decides to choose to this book should have an overall knowledge of the Chernobyl story.   While it is not necessary to read any prior material on the disaster, doing so would give the reader an even greater sense of how misinformed people were regarding the plant and the effects of radiation.   As I read through the book, I found the stories to be tragic and at other times surreal.  There is without a doubt a genuine disconnect between what the people believe and the danger that actually existed.  I found it hard to reconcile and can only surmise that the source of the disconnect was the Soviet way of life which relied on the tight control of information and the use of propaganda.  But did this control of information cause more deaths than necessary?

The stories paint a dark picture in which millions of citizens are largely unaware of the danger posed by the reactor’s meltdown.   Some go on as if nothing has changed, oblivious to the mortal danger around them.  The true danger of the exposure to radiation would later manifest itself not just in those with direct contact but even unborn children.   The births defects that plague the babies of Chernobyl are some of the most heartbreaking moments in the story.  The mothers are conflicted by anger, sadness and regret.  They believed in the Soviet system and that everything would be okay.  It is what they were told by those they trusted and by Moscow.  And the inability to actually see radiation undoubtedly made it harder for many to believe that where they were living was contaminated.   Their ignorance is perhaps a glaring defect of the Soviet system:  a population drive by innovation was also hindered by the suppression of  information and a strict chain of command that did not permit freedom of speech.  The inability of lower level party members to sound alarms and take measures that could have changed things is yet another tragedy in the Chernobyl story.   And it is discussed here in several of the interviews.

Sadly, as time continues to move forward, more individuals that are known as “Chernobylites”, will succumb to the long lasting effects from their time near the reactor and living in the areas in and around Pripyat.  Children born to that generation will continue to live with their birth defects and struggle to understand the unfair hand that they have been dealt in life.  The Soviet Union is long gone and it is believed by some that Chernobyl helped to bring about its demise.  The disaster did damage the Soviet reputation and spread mistrusts across the republics but there were other factors involved that lead to the Soviet Union’s dissolution in December, 1991.  Chernobyl will continue to haunt Russia and Ukraine, serving as a reminder of a dark time in Soviet history.  The recent HBO show of the same name has renewed interest in the disaster but to accurately capture what really happened, in particular to those that lived through it, the voices here are invaluable.

ASIN: B016QMCBKM

Soviet Union

20191029_225511(0)Some of you known him as a rapper, others know him as a film star.   To be fair, he is both of them and a lot more.  Personally, I knew of Common for years before he broke into Hollywood.  The star of ‘John Wick 2‘ and ‘Run All Night‘ earned his stripes on the underground rap circuit before going mainstream.  I saw him perform live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and it was a show for the ages.   The electricity was in the air and the place erupted as soon as he stepped on stage.  He was larger than life and rightfully so.   I saw this book in the lobby of my building and instantly grabbed it.  Admittedly, I was unaware of this biography but thoroughly intrigued to see what he had to say.

From the start, it is clear that the book is not a typical autobiography.  In fact, the structure of the book is different with Common and his mother Mahalia Ann Hines taking turns in presenting the story.  As expected, it starts with his birth in Chicago to Mahalia and the late ABA star Lonnie Lynn (1943-2014).   The marriage did not survive and Lynn would later relocate to Denver.   But he remained a part of his son’s life and Common discusses many memories of his father that helped shape him into the man he is today.   But make no mistake, his mother is the dominant force here and their relationship was cemented in stone over the years as young Rashid grows up in one of America’s most dangerous cities.

Since this is a story about Common, the world of rap music is a topic of discussion. Common tells us how he became entranced by rap and his traversal from possible college graduate to a young rapper determined to strike it big.  The odds were surely against him but his determination and belief in himself are inspiring and one of the many uplifting moments in the book.   His success was not easy by any means but he does exemplify the old wisdom that one should never give up on a dream.   And yes, other stars make an appearance in the story such as the late Tupac Shakur (1972-1996).

To say that there is more the Common than what we see on screen is an understatement.  Being from Chicago, he is fully aware of the streets and reveals some mishaps and deeds of his own that he would probably take back if he could.  But such is life and it is full of lessons.  One of the most challenging is love and Common is not immune to the trials and tribulations that come with relationships.  While he does not provide gossip for online forums of magazines, he does talk about his relationships with singer Erykah Badu and actress Taraji P. Henson.   We sometimes view celebrities as living in another dimension but the truth is that they are just like everyone else. Heartbreak can and does happen to everyone.  But this is Common we are talking about and he does not stay down.  He keeps moving forward, taking the lessons in stride with the intention of not making the same mistake again.   And from what I have seen, he is a remarkable person who understands the importance of hard work and humbleness.

His mother Mahalia’s wisdom is timeless and she is wise beyond her years.  I truly loved her part of the book where she passes along sages of knowledge that we can all keep with us.  However, she is not without her faults and is open about where she went wrong at times.  But what is clear is that she loves her son and has always been his biggest supporter.  I am sure that will continue as Common matures and takes on bigger projects which will reap him more and more success.

Common’s story is not over yet, and I do hope that he has many more years to go in his career.  In fact, he is only forty-seven years of age.  But if you want to know who he is, where he comes from and where he wants to go, then you cannot go wrong with this enjoyable autobiography by mother and son who open up their lives to the public.  And it is true that one day it’ll all make sense.

ISBN-10: 1451625871
ISBN-13: 978-1451625875

Biographies

Chopra1We hear the word peace often, typically while watching news broadcasts regarding ongoing conficts around the world.  The search for peace remains the ultimate goal of mediators intent on resolving long standing feuds that have claimed lives and destroyed cities.  Cease-fires and treaties are signed by which all parties agree to end hostilities.  However, conflict resolution and geunine peace are two very different concepts.  Many of us seek peace in our lives, away from those who have wronged us or others who remain a source of irritation.  The American pacifist A.J. Muste (1885-1967) believe that there is no way to peace, but instead that peace is the way.   That is the central theme of this book by Deepak Chopra, M.D., who along with brothe Sanjiv, wrote the beautiful memoir Brotherhood Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream. As he explained there, the became a proponent of transcendental meditation and his practice of it, has led to him becoming a world reknown figure whose name is now synonymous with it.  Here, he is focusing on the concept of peace, showing how and why so many of us fail to find it in our lives.

Skeptics might be tempted to write off the book as yet another attempt by a “guru” to tell us to be nice to each other.  Those beliefs are not only misguided but inaccurate.  At no point in the book does Chopra tell us to that peace comes about by simply being nice to each other.  Peace is far more involved than that and if we pay close attention to what he says, the place where it can be found is within. All of us go through life experiencing joyful moments and other times of fear, tragedy an uncertainty.  Peace, along with happiness, are truly what we all crave regardless of our backgrounds. However, out methods to attain each are what ultimately lead us astray and sometimes to our destruction.

To describe this book as eye-opening is an understatement.  There is a profound amount of information to digest which surely will cause many of us to rethink what we knew about peace, not only towards those we meet but within ourselves.  Early in the book, he sets the tone right when he says “the way of Peace isn’t based on religion or morality. It doesn’t ask us to become Saints overnight, or to renounce our feelings of anger or out thirst for Revenge. What you ask for is something new: conscious evolution“.  From that point on it is clear that to fully understand this book, requires the reader to open the mind, clear it and be willing to learrn a new approach to life.  And to set us on the right path, he includes a seven day plan for introducing true peace in our lives.  I have yet to try it but have made a note of it and do believe that it can be beneficial especially in light of the current events in our world.

Chopra makes each point by drawing our attention to the very things which are supposed to result in “peace” such as Iraq War that began in 2003, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and others that have either achieved an outcome devoid of true peace or in other cases, failed to truly find it.  Today, animosity and acts of aggression continue on the Gaza Strip making peace seem like a very distant possibility. But Chopra has hope for all of us and believes that one by one we can change the world simply by the way we live our own lives.  And while you may not believe that to be true, there is certainly nothing wrong with living your own life in true peace.

Religion is also discussed as Chopra frames a very interesting discussion of how it relates to peace.  Those of us who are devout in our beliefs will remain committed to our convictions.  But Chopra is not asking you abandon your faith. He simply wants us to see where religion can sometimes lead us astray as we profound the utmost belief in the system of principles and scriptures we have been taught from a young age.  In essence, religion is neither the cause or the cure.

There were many moments when I had to take a step back and reflect on my own life.  And what I found is that Chopra had provided tools for me to personally understand how I can have peace in my own life.  In particular, there are three concepts that he writes about early that could be seen as pillars for a way of peace: Seva:  Your actions harm no one and benefit everyone, Simran: You remember your true nature and your purpose for being here and Satsang:  You belong in the community of peace and wisdom.  The book contains a far more detailed discussion of each but in their simplest forms, each speaks volumes.

Pain, turmoil and violence are parts of our world.  We do our best to navigate life and avoid them as much as we can.  But simply avoiding them does not automatically give us peace.  Peace is a person process that requires deep introspection and an understanding of ourselves.  Once that happens, we will truly understand that peace is the way.

ISBN-10: 0307339815
ISBN-13: 978-0307339812

General Reading

winshipThe civil war the engulfed the small Central American nation of El Salvador from 1980-1992 caused the deaths of over 75, 000 people.  The violence, heartache and oppression felt by millions of El Salvadorans has reverberated over the years as a reminder of dark times for the country known as the “Pulgarcito” (Tom Thumb of the Americas). The conflict forced millions of people to flee, many of them settling in the United States.  For those that remained,  they faced years of more turmoil but also slow and steady healing.  The nation still has a long way to go and for the youth, there is much to tell about growing up in one of the most violent countries in the world.

Jim Winship is a Professor of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewate and was once a Fulbright Scholar in El Salvador and Colombia.  By his own admission, he has traveled to El Salvador well over a dozen times.  It has become a second home for him and his fondness for the country is evident in his words.   This book by Winship takes a different approach to El Salvador and in comparison to Joseph Frazier’s El Salvador Could Be Like That, the story here is about the youth of the country and what it means to come of age in a place without many sources of hope. The book is set in two parts, the first tells the history of El Salvador, introducing or re-introducing facts to the reader.  I believe many Americans will be surprised at some of the things that can  be found in the book.  And I will go a step further and say that there may be some people who could place the small country on a map.  To some, it is an afterthought or just another Latin American nation plagued by corruption and violence.  But to take a such narrow-minded view disregards the complicate and tragic history between El Salvador and the United States.  In fact, El Salvador’s existence for the last forty years is directly related to U.S. foreign policy.  The truths are uncomfortable but necessary in understanding the decline of a beautiful country with some of the nicest people who I have met.

The second half of the book moves on to the stories of young people who have grown up in El Salvador, some of them through the civil war.  This is the crux of the book and drives home the author’s points about coming of age in El Salvador.  The words are sharp and the stories moving, leaving readers to question what they thought they knew.   Person after person, we learn of the despair and income inequality faced by young men and women making life in El Salvador perilous.  Unsurprisingly, nearly a third of El Salvadorans live in the United States. Some are legal, others illegal, but they all have their stories of how and why they left the only home they knew.  Some will go back either on their own accord or by deportation.   What they will bring back to their home nation could be a blessing or a curse.  As Winship relays in the book, the deportations carried about the U.S. Government helped set the stage for one of the largest crime waves in El Salvador’s history.  And that same crime wave is now spreading across American cities.  I believe many readers will shake their head in bewilderment at the revelations in that section. The old adage holds true that we do reap what we sow.

No book about El Salvador would be complete without a discussion about violence there.  Winship discusses this to give readers an honest analysis of violent crime.  Latin America is a hotbed of revolution and has been for over a century.   The late Simón Bolívar once said “when tyranny becomes law, rebellion is right”.  Across the continents of Central and South America, violent protests and removals of presidents sometimes by military force, have etched into the fabric of the many nations found on both continents, a lingering distrust of government and vicious cycles of corruption that may never be broken. Whether El Salvador can leave both of these in the past completely, remains to be seen.  The future for some is bleak but others never give up.  And one day they may reach their goals of prosperity, health and happiness.  But their stories will always remind of days past when there was no shining light.

ASIN: B00L4CKRG0

Latin America

20200319_191037The past several years have given way to a rise in the number of opioid related deaths in the United States.  Cities across America have struggled with a surge in drug overdoses and lack of proper facilities to handle the deceased.  I knew several people who battled an addiction to opioids and all but one are now deceased.  It is a soul crushing and life depleting addiction that cuts across all ethnic lines.  Many of us know someone who is currently battling an addiction or once did in the past, whether it was opioids, alcohol or some other substance. And what we all know is that addicts do not get clean until they have realized there is no where else to go but in the ground.  Dan Peres is a former Editor in Chief for Women’s Wear Daily Details and in this revealing memoir, he details his own struggle with a drug addcition that nearly took his life.

His story begins in Pikesville, Maryland in a run of the mill Jewish family.  He recounts his early life growing up in the suburbs before his life changes course and he finds himself at New York University.  It is there that the story picks up pace and Dan continues his ascent in the social scene in the city that never sleeps.  Journalism soon becomes his calling and he makes his entry into the fashion wold where he exceeds as a journalist and even gets to meet his childhood icon David Copperfield.  His job took him to Europe where he makes a home in Paris.  His recollections of his time there are some of the best parts of the story.  Upon returning to New York, he decides to pull a physical stunt that goes terribly wrong.  Two back surgeries and a bottle of Vicodin later, the addict was in the making.  And what starts out as simply medication to recover from back surgery,  soon turns into a habit which took him to hell and back.

Peres is blessed with sharp wit and his observations of the situations he found himself in and his own behaviour, add a touch of lightheartedness to a story that is quite serious.  Professionally, he was able to get by while personally, his life became a mix of drugs, escorts, lies and more drugs.  All the while, his maintained a public facade misled most until the demons caught up with him and his life began to unravel.  Two pills a day escalated into nearly a two dozen and then even more as the monster of addiction took hold of every facet of his life.  Throughout the book, Peres is frank about just how crazy things had become and his state of mind.  The story is simply mind-boggling and it truly is a miracle that he did not die.

Before meeting the woman who would become his wife, several women enter and exit the story under assumed names including one known as “Chickpea”.   The relationships or what could be better described as unspoken arrangements,  highlight the dysfunction in his mind as a result of an addiction that refused to release him from its grip.  His addiction pushed him to the brink and the episodes in Tijuana, Mexico and Skid Row in Los Angeles are the moments in the book where we realize he truly went off the deep end.  But Peres knows this and in the book, he literally takes himself to task for what could only be described as lunacy.  But such is the mind of an addict and Peres succeeds in showing us how addicts function under the influence of the drugs they consume.

After becoming a husband and expectant father, the addiction refused to let him go.  The actions of his family and in particular his Aunt Lou, are part of the what saved his life.  Their efforts are a prime example of the battles being waged across America today as families struggle to get loved ones the help they need. Peres provides a textbook example of the importance of intervention.  This story is a roller coaster ride and I am sure that readers whill find it enjoyable yet sad at the same time.  Peres is still alive to tell his tale but others were not so lucky.   But just maybe, this heartbreaking story of addiction will be enough to deter the next person from going down the same path. Good read.

ISBN-10: 0062693468
ISBN-13: 978-0062693464

Biographies

Collins The looming exit from the European Union by England will undoubtedly be watched by the whole world, which has been kept in suspense by the referendum in 2016 and failure of former British Prime Minster Theresa May to garner enough votes for a formal separation.  Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared it will happen and on January 31, 2020, he will be proven right or wrong on the matter.  In Northern Ireland, there is fear and uncertainty regarding how the move by England will affect Ulster County, the loyalist stronghold composed of majority that stands firmly behind the Crown.  The Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) will be following as well to see how the move will affect its goal for a united Ireland free of British interference.  Time will tell how the departure from the European Union will affect both Britain and other nations.  Recently, I decided to do some further reading on Northern Ireland and I came across this book by Tim Pat Coogan about an Irish revolutionary I was previously unfamiliar with.  His name was Michael Collins (1890-1922) and this is the story of his group of assassins known as the Twelve Apostles and their fight for freedom from Downing Street by famed author Tim Pat Coogan.

I believe that readers will find this book enjoyable if they have a sound base of knowledge regarding the conflict in Northern Ireland.  In fact, the author Tim Pat Coogan, has written extensively about the “Troubles”, and in his book “1916: The Easter Rising“, he explains the movements of the IRA and the seizure of the General Post Office and other critical facilities in Dublin.  That uprising is considered by many to be the defining moment in the Republican goal of a united Ireland and liberation from British rule.   The execution of IRA members in the wake of the uprising turned them into the martyrs and set the stage for the decades running battle between Loyalist and Republican forces.

Collins is the focus here and the author wastes no time in getting into the story.  From the beginning it is clear that Collins is man with strong convictions and had no repulsion to using violence as a tool of effecting change.  He was a complex character but firmly committed to the expulsion of the Crown.  I warn readers that this book does not have a happy ending. In fact, the story is gritty and acts of violence occur throughout.  But I do believe that if you choose to read this book, that is something you already know and have accepted. Collins and his group that are known as the Twelve Apostles carry out acts of aggression that will shock many readers.  The events in the book take place between the years 1916 and 1922 and their savagery rival violence seen even today.  As for Collins, Coogan remarks in the introduction that:

The Jewish leader Yitzhak Shamir both studied the methods of Michael Collins, and used the code name Michael as his own nom de guerre. And in the state of Israel which Shamir helped to form, I was made aware of a guilty foreboding on the part of those Israeli citizens who knew their history, that one day the Arabs too might produce a Michael Collins – and that if they did, there would not be a supermarket left standing in Israel“.

I completely agree and shudder to think of how the Gaza strip would be today if a Collins type figure had in fact existed and acted on behalf of the Palestinians.

In America, the murder of a policeman or elected official spurs outrage and swift action by law enforcement.  Nearly every criminal will tell you that no one wants to be charged with murdering a cop.  But for Collins and the Apostles, everyone was fair game.  No one escapes the wrath of the IRA and its band of enforcers are eerily similar to the mafia’s own Murder, Inc., based out of Brooklyn, New York.  The Apostles have a hit list and they go through it with deadly precision as part of their mission to obtain Ireland’s freedom.  Coogan tells the stories in all of their detail and at times, it felt as is a movie was being filmed. The assassinations and attacks are brazen and deadly, with an increasing body count that will cause some readers to sit in disbelief.

In December, 1921, the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, resulting in the creation of the Irish Free State, which was composed of 26 out of 32 counties in Ireland. The remaining six in Northern Ireland chose to leave and remain in firm support of England.  Collins became head of the Irish Free State and held the position until his own death in 1922.  The treaty was rejected by hardliners within the IRA and tensions led to the Irish Civil War of 1922, in which the IRA split into factions.  Collins now found himself at odds with those he had once stood next to in the fight for Ireland’s freedom including Éamon de Valera (1882-1975) who leaves and then re-enters the story at pivotal moments.  De Valera late formed Fianna Fáil in 1926 after separating from the anti-treaty Sinn Féin party.  Incredibly, he lived until the age of 92, when he died from complications of pneumonia and heart failure on August 19, 1975.

If you want to know more about the uprising in 1916 and the residual effects in the years that followed, this book is a must read.  However, it ends after Collins’ death, which comes after the Apostles have parted ways in the wake of the Irish Civil War.  Readers looking for a longer account of the conflict will be satisfied with Kevin Toolis’ “Rebel Hearts: Journeys Within the IRA’s Soul” and Peter Taylor’s “Provos: The IRA and Sinn Fein“. Both are highly informative and give excellent explanations about why the IRA continues to fight. And for a more personal story, I highly recommend Dennis O’ Hearn’s Nothing But an Unfinished Song: The Life and Times of Bobby Sands“, which is the definitive biography of the iconic IRA figure. Tim Pat Coogan has done it again with an excellent account of the activities of Michael Collins and the origins of the long running feud known as The “Troubles”.

ASIN: B073YFPTRR

Northern Ireland

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