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Posts Tagged ‘race relations’

Book Review: Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

June 17, 2010 1 comment

A white little girl standing with a black little boy in front of a school bus.Summary:
In this memoir, Julia recalls growing up in a conservative Calvinist family in Indiana with her two adopted black brothers and the parental abuse and general racism they faced.  The last part of the memoir recalls her time spent in the Dominican Republic at a fundamentalist Christian reform school–Escuela Caribe–and the further abuse inflicted upon herself and David there.

Review:
I heard about this memoir due to the section on Escuela Caribe.  A cousin of mine was sent there by her parents in the 2000s and when googling it, I came across all the controversy surrounding the school with this memoir frequently cited.  I therefore expected this book to predominantly be about a vicious reform school.  In fact, it is a stunning exploration of race and racism in the United States.

Julia was four when her parents adopted David, and they immediately bonded.  Julia frequently expresses feeling as if David, who is only a few months younger than herself, is her twin brother.  They are happy siblings and oblivious to the racism around them until their parents adopt another boy a year older than them, Jerome, so that David can “have one of his own kind around.”  Jerome is violent, steals, slacks at school, and molests Julia.  Julia eventually comes to wonder why her parents beat Jerome and David when they sin but simply send her to her room.  This combined with Jerome’s continued attempts to convince David to side with him against “the whiteys” is confusing and painful to Julia.  Julia and David feel as if they are truly brother and sister, why doesn’t anyone else treat them that way?  Julia beautifully depicts her own struggles against imitating racist actions and words as well as her brother David’s struggles against internalizing the racism they are surrounded with.

The other element strong in the memoir is a bracing look at the violence, anger, and fear often found in fundamentalist Christian homes.  Children are guided with anger and violence instead of love due to the Bible verse “spare the rod, spoil the child.”  Julia’s parents believed in this, and Escuela Caribe clearly firmly believes it as well.  They believe the children are horrible people and the sin must be beaten out of them, whether with belts, boxing gloves, over-exercising, humiliation, or excruciating physical labor.  This is important for people to know about, and Julia paints a clear picture in an unbiased voice.  Indeed, this is the least biased narrative voice I’ve ever read in a memoir, which makes it all that much more believable and painful to read.

Julia’s writing talent is strong, and she weaves a painful narrative that is difficult to put down and forces the reader to confront racism and abuse in American culture.  I recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoirs or has an interest in race relations or fundamentalist Christianity.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Swaptree

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Book Review: Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

Blue face on modern art background.Summary:
Jack Barron was a baby Bolshevik hippie in his Berkeley days.  He even set up the Social Justice League, which is now the third party competing against the Democrats and Republicans.  All those high ideals got set aside with age and the offer of a weekly, vidphone-in program: Bug Jack Barron.  He’s happy with the money and the calm embracing of reality, but Benedict Howards of the Freezer Foundation is about to shake it all up.

Benedict Howards is in mad pursuit of one thing–human immortality.  He’s cryogenically freezing those who hope that some day the key to immortality may be found.  Of course, they have to pay a high price for it, but there’s more to Bennie than meets the eye, and the money for those freezes might not be going to the research they claim to be.  Best of all, he has the best bargaining ticket out there–free freezes, and he wants Jack Barron to be his own publicity machine.

Barron doesn’t think he’d ever cave to the likes of Benedict Howards, but when his long lost, baby Bolshevik love, Sara returns to his life, everything changes.

Summary:
Bug Jack Barron has a complex plot that is difficult to summarize and attempts to be a tour de force but that ultimately fell flat for me.  It’s the perfect example of a scifi concept that didn’t age well.  Published in 1969, the thoughts and ideas of the 1960s are rampant throughout.  A large part of the plot revolves around a future where blacks and whites are still segregated by virtue of wealth in America.  In fact, an entire piece of the plot revolves around the fact that a black man could never be president of the US.  That kind of falls flat when you’re reading the book and your current president is a black man.  Spinrad completely mispredicted where race relations would be at in the US in the future, and that soured the rest of the book to me.

Then there’s Sara, Jack’s love.  She is the quintessential great woman behind a great man.  Without Sara, Jack wouldn’t be great at all.  He’d never meet his potential.  Yet the relationship is hardly reciprocal.  In fact, Sara seems much worse off for being involved with Jack at all.  She doesn’t seem to improve or embrace her greater self as a result.  I expected much more of Spinrad who wrote A World Between in which he pointed out how much good the two genders can do for each other.  It’s not like Spinrad is critical of this woman behind the man set-up either.  There’s an entire section where Sara regrets her misunderstanding of Jack’s macho nature as bad and instead embraces his man-nature greed for power as something she could never have.  Excuse me, Spinrad, I would like to introduce you to Queen Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette, Madonna, etc…  It’s bad enough that some modern cultures are still telling us women that we can only be our greatest when inspiring a great man.  I don’t need it in my scifi.

Then there’s the whole immortality issue, which is largely what the book revolves around.  I know some readers would find this idea very intriguing and would enjoy seeing how society would deal with it.  The thing is, I’ve never been someone who wants to live forever.  It all seems very natural that there’s life and death and why on earth would I want to live forever?  It seems rather selfish, adolescent, and silly to me.  I can understand not wanting to age.  Wanting to have a young body throughout your 80 or so years on earth, but never dying?  That wouldn’t be a trump card Benedict Howards could use on me, so I have a hard time sympathizing with Jack and Sara.

That said, Spinrad’s writing style is quite enjoyable as before.  He writes in semi-run-on sentences that read as the characters’ trains of thought.  It’s a great way of showing, not telling.  Additionally, I could see other people being able to put aside the completely miscalculated race relations and enjoying the immortality part.  It’s not badly written, ignoring the misogynistic Sara story arc, it’s just not my cup of tea.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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