Review: 1919: Poems, Eve L. Ewing

I had been wanting to read 1919 for a while and finally picked it up at the Harvard Book Store recently when Steve and I went to Cambridge to hear Katherine Howe discuss her new book. Ewing weaves together passages from a report called The Negro in Chicago: A Study on Race Relations and a Race Riot (1922) with poetry inspired by the passages and photographs from the era. If you hadn’t heard about the 1919 race riot in Chicago, you are not alone. I hadn’t heard of it either, and you have to wonder how much this tragic event influenced race relations in Chicago in the decades that followed up to the present day. Did it influence redlining, for example? Redlining isn’t unique to Chicago, but it’s the city people think of when they think of redlining. What about the school system? The way in which that city can still be quite segregated, though again, it’s not alone among northern cities in that regard. The book weaves together reimagined passages from Exodus with a wide variety of poems (including haiku, haibun, two-voice poetry, and erasure poetry).

The collection includes several poems that stood out for me. “I saw Emmitt Till this week at the grocery store” imagines an Emmitt Till who survived to old age. Till would turn 78 later this month, had he lived, lest anyone think that the kind of racial violence that resulted in his murder happened a long time ago. “April 5, 1968,” an allusion to the aftermath of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, includes some gorgeous language, some of which alludes to King’s speeches. “Countless Schemes” riffs on a chilling passage from The Negro in Chicago that suggests the only solution to eliminating racial strife in the country is the elimination of African Americans, either through deportation, the establishment of a segregated state, or the hope [their word] that African Americans would die out. “Jump/Rope” evokes a jump rope chant, similar to “Miss Mary Mack” in structure and recounts the death of Eugene Williams, which sparked the 1919 riots.

1919 is an excellent poetry collection. I plan to use it as a mentor text in my Social Justice class. It gave me the idea that my students might be able to create a poetry project based on a social justice issue they research.

I’m so glad my poetry friends clued me in on Eve Ewing. Check this book out if you are interested in poetry, race relations, and racism, society, history, Chicago, or all of the above.

Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s WifeI have had Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife on my to-read list for an age, and I’m not sure why I wasn’t compelled to actually start reading it sooner. I started watching Doctor Who on Netflix, and I found the story of the Doctor and River Song deeply compelling. In the episode “The Day of the Moon,” River is going back to prison, and she kisses the Doctor goodbye.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wavWtkIgnDQ[/youtube]

 

I found the idea of two time travelers, in love, but living in opposite directions, so devastatingly, hopelessly sad. And as I did some digging online, I found that people compared the relationship between River and the Doctor to this novel, which is what prompted me to read it at last.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is the story of Henry and Clare DeTamble. Henry has a genetic disease that causes him to travel through time. He is unable to control it, and when he arrives at his destinations, he is naked (being unable to take his clothes with him through time) and often has no idea when he is. From Clare’s perspective, they first meet when she is a little girl, and Henry occasionally visits her as she grows up. Though Henry can’t seem to control his travels, he does seem drawn to important people and places in his life. Their love story is both beautiful and tragic.

At this point, the review is about to be spoilery, so you have been warned. Don’t read further if you don’t want parts of the book ruined for you. Though I realize this book has been out for a while now, and spoiler alerts are technically “off,” I enjoyed the book spoiler free (excepting for spoiling it for myself by peeking ahead), and I think everyone else who wants to read it has that right. For that reason, spoiler text is in white below. Select the text to read it.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’s that I thought Henry’s death was unsatisfactory. After all the times he managed to get out of scrapes, he winds up being shot, and by Clare’s father and brother while they’re out hunting, no less? Yes, it’s probably a miracle that he managed to survive as long as he did, given all the bizarre situations in which he finds himself, but that was just pretty awful. All that said, I loved the rest of it. I admit it was a little difficult to keep up with Henry’s adventures, but his life with Clare, and their love for one another, was so well drawn and compelling, that I couldn’t quit turning pages. And then I peeked ahead and realized Henry was going to die, and I had to put the book down for a while because I just couldn’t take it. I knew that a story as strange as this one was bound to be fraught and most likely could not end well, but I didn’t want to read about Henry’s death. At last I picked the book up again and finished it. I adored the ending and the comparisons to Odysseus and Penelope. We read The Odyssey and see Odysseus’s story, but we have glimpses, only, of Penelope’s twenty years of waiting. In many ways, Clare’s own story is much more heartrending than Penelope’s.

In all, this was a good book, and it’s been a while since I read a book I enjoyed this much.

[rating:5/5]