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Author Archive: "Review-a-Day"


Fighting Chance: The Struggle Over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction AmericaFighting Chance: The Struggle Over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America by Faye E. Dudden

Reviewed by Nina Silber
The Wilson Quarterly

For a moment amid the ferment after the Civil War, it seemed possible to at least some Americans that women would win the right to vote. The abolition of slavery put broad questions of voting rights and citizenship on the table, and legislators were eager to act. Women suffragists hoped their time had come. Instead, they saw their "fighting chance" evaporate with the ratification in 1870 of the Fifteenth Amendment, which outlawed disenfranchisement on the basis of race but not of sex. Women would have to wait half a century before they secured the vote in 1920.

Faye E. Dudden, a professor of history at Colgate College, attempts to shed new light on this episode in Fighting Chance. Hers is a tale of the ideological, political, and often intensely personal disputes that pitted former political allies in the abolitionist cause -- including Wendell Phillips, Lucy Stone, ...

Chronicling the Quotidian

Mister Wonderful: A Love StoryMister Wonderful: A Love Story by Daniel Clowes

Reviewed by James R. Fleming
Rain Taxi

In many respects Daniel Clowes's Mister Wonderful cannot be properly described as a graphic novel (Clowes, for the record, refers to the book simply as "a love story"). While the book is certainly what might broadly be defined as an "illustrated narrative" -- or what the less fussy among us still like to call a "comic book" -- it bears none of the standard structural or thematic hallmarks of a novel. The narrative is short and succinct, the perspective is limited to one character and focuses on one extended incident, and the story arrives at a rather definitive conclusion, hence the book can be best conceptualized not as a "novel" per se but as an illustrated short story. This is an important distinction to make, though one that is hardly offered in critical discussions and reviews of graphic narratives. The broad and often misleading term "graphic novel" is usually applied by publishers and reviewers to any sort of illustrated narrative that is published in book ...

“In Red:” A Darkly Fantastic Polish Fairy Tale

In RedIn Red by Magdalena Tulli

Reviewed by Jessa Crispin

This is the story of Stitchings, a small town to be found in the Republic of Poland, although it might not show up on any of your maps. "Whoever has been everywhere and seen everything, last of all should pay a visit to Stitchings," Magdalena Tulli writes in In Red's first line. It's a wary introduction to a town that behaves as no town should. Sure, there is the salt mine and the porcelain factory. There are strapping young soldiers and fair maidens. There are businessmen and oligarchs and a lucky star hovering over the town hall. But Tulli's hesitation is soon understandable.

Stitchings' wealthy businessman, who can never seem to pay for his dinner because no one has enough cash to make change for his high-denomination bills, is killed by a bullet that circles the Earth for years until it finds its target in the great man's heart. There's another man who can't sleep, who exists somewhere between unconsciousness and full wakefulness, and he's in love with a girl whose ...

The New Best Vegan Cookbook

Big Vegan: 400 Recipes: No Meat, No Dairy, All DeliciousBig Vegan: 400 Recipes: No Meat, No Dairy, All Delicious by Robin Asbell

Reviewed by Jill Owens

I was a vegetarian for many years, and though I'm not any more, I still cook meatless meals most of the time. Robin Asbell's fabulous new cookbook, Big Vegan, is my latest go-to cookbook and hands-down one of the best vegan cookbooks I've ever used. It contains the most comprehensive, varied, and flat-out tasty recipes since Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Veganomicon; if you're a fan of that cookbook, this will be a tie or at least a close second. (It actually boasts over a third more recipes, as well.)

At an initial glance, I thought that Big Vegan might be a little too simplistic -- recipes like Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Basil, Edamame Hummus, or Hot and Sour Broccoli Salad sounded tasty but not terribly exciting -- and then I actually made the broccoli salad. Though it took less than 10 minutes to put together, with a minimum of ingredients, ...

All Mashed Up

Potato: A History of the Propitious EsculentPotato: A History of the Propitious Esculent by John Reader

Reviewed by Peter Duffy
The New Republic

There is no more tragic vegetable than the potato. Originating in the Peruvian Andes, it was first domesticated by the Quechua-speaking peoples, who could not help but become reliant on a highly nutritional foodstuff that could be grown in large quantities on small plots in regions inhospitable to grains. John Reader, in his ambling new history of the "propitious esculent," calls the potato the "best all-around bundle of nutrition known." Without any help from other products, it can provide a "filling, wholesome and nourishing meal." But the "innocent" potato, Reader admits, "has facilitated exploitation." It enabled the Quechua to maintain strong bodies while suffering the deprecations of the Incas (and their system of forced labor). The Incas were followed by Spanish colonizers and then by Spanish and Peruvian hacienda owners, whose "feudal stranglehold on agriculture and farm labor" remained in place until just a few decades ago.

When the Spanish brought potatoes to Europe in the sixteenth century, ...

Diana Abu-Jaber’s Birds of Paradise: A Family Lost in Lush Miami

Birds of ParadiseBirds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber

Reviewed by Christine Selk
The Oregonian

When you're familiar with someone's work, it can be difficult to separate it from what has come before, to let it stand -- or stumble -- on its own merit. But this challenge, in the end, is what makes Birds of Paradise so remarkable. Because while Portland writer Diana Abu-Jaber has always impressed us with her pointed humor and cultural insights, her new novel is just that: entirely new. With Birds of Paradise, Abu-Jaber has made an amazing, gigantic leap into rare air, that hazy stratosphere we jokingly call The Big Time. Her novel is that worthy, and that beautiful.

Birds of Paradise centers on Avis and Brian Muir, a couple tortured by the disappearance of their beautiful daughter, Felice, who ran away at 13. As the story begins, Felice is about to turn 18, having spent five years clubbing, skateboarding and modeling for Miami tattoo parlors. Felice's absence has created a chasm between Avis, a pastry chef who buries her sorrows in complicated recipes, and Brian, a ...

The Missing of the Somme

The Missing of the Somme (Vintage)The Missing of the Somme (Vintage) by Geoff Dyer

Reviewed by Kerri Arsenault

I visited London recently, trod up and down Whitehall almost every day, and stopped every now and then to try on a summer dress, or quaff a pint of ale, or sit on a soft bit of grass in nearby St. James Park. Between these innocuous events and in my evanescent mode, the Cenotaph, a blocky war memorial marooned in the center of Whitehall, became almost invisible, or as Geoff Dyer's describes in The Missing of the Somme the "unheeded architecture of the everyday."

The Cenotaph (meaning "empty tomb" in Greek) was originally erected to commemorate the first anniversary of the Armistice after World War I; however, over time, it has become a permanent memorial to all soldiers who died in military service, or rather a homage to what Rudyard Kipling deemed, "The Glorious Dead," as the inscription on the Cenotaph reads. Each year, Dyer writes, the Cenotaph is "recharged" with silence, referring to the two minutes of annually rendered quiet, yet as I discovered too, the "clamour ...

Port of Memories

Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of DreamsOdessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams by Charles King

Reviewed by Timothy Snyder
The Wilson Quarterly

The 20th century defies nostalgia and mocks historical categories. For historians and others concerned with European civilization, the Holocaust disfigures the natural reflex to make sense of the past. Historians of contemporary Europe often pay little attention to the extermination of its Jews, while historians of the Holocaust generally separate their accounts from European history. Some social theorists see the Holocaust itself as an endpoint of modernity, and thus as a powerful reason to embrace a postmodern view of the world. Yet the historians who have tried to follow this prescription find that the postmodern embrace of the fragmentary and the liminal provides no refuge from the horror. Attending to the borderlands rather than the capitals, and to zones of multinational settlement rather than nation-states, they realize that it was in precisely such places that the Holocaust began, with mass shootings over pits. If the modern storyline seems to lead straight to the gas chamber, the postmodern one leads to the ditch.Continue »

Virtues in Conflict

Loyalty: The Vexing VirtueLoyalty: The Vexing Virtue by Eric Felten

Reviewed by Will Wlizlo
Rain Taxi

Loyalists, these days more than ever, are tragic fools. Watch as the longtime company man is replaced by an ambitious twenty-something with social-media skills, the friend-in-need realizes they were actually an accomplice-in-deed, the duty-bound soldier marches into a storm of bullets, the housewife finds an unfamiliar thong under the bed. There is catharsis, revulsion, and predictability in betrayal, yet the framework of our society is fastened together by so many easily- and oft-broken bonds of loyalty. But in the absence of civilization-wide collapse, some of these loyal connections must remain unbroken -- and thrive, even.

Eric Felten, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, set out to uncover why we profess fealty, fidelity, obedience, and trust to the people, institutions, and ideas we do in his latest book Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue. Often these loyalties come into disastrous conflict, and it is these roots of human drama that Felten excels at untangling. "Perhaps by understanding the peculiar moral conflicts that loyalty creates," he writes, "we can ...

In “Wonderstruck”, A Child’s-Eye View Of New York

WonderstruckWonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Reviewed by Dan Kois

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by author and artist Brian Selznick, was an odd hybrid: a picture book for older children; the first YA novel to win the Caldecott Medal for children's book illustration; a kind of proto-graphic novel for kids interested in the intersection of text and image.

It was also fabulously successful at conjuring up a world of wonder inside the walls of the Montparnasse railway station in 1931; with its combination of a propulsive written story and big, beautiful, full-page illustrations, it was best experienced in a rush, like some forgotten film from the early days of cinema. Indeed, movies were at the heart of the book, and so it's not surprising that movie lover Martin Scorsese has directed an adaptation, Hugo, which comes out in November.

Selznick's follow-up, Wonderstruck, is a slower, more ruminative book, less intricately constructed than Hugo Cabret but gentler in spirit. Once again, Selznick alternates text with pencil illustrations; this time the text tells one story while ...

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