We Jews and Blacks: Memoir with Poems

We Jews and Blacks: Memoir with Poems

by Willis Barnstone

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A poignant memoir that wrestles with problems of identity, difference, and the human conditionSee more details below


A poignant memoir that wrestles with problems of identity, difference, and the human condition

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A work of profound intelligence and utter humanity; it is intensely engaging, exquisitely playful, unabashedly erudite without a trace of pretension, and radiant with love for fellow creatures." —Andrei Codrescu

Indiana University Press

"[A] moving, and at times astonishing, memoir... it sparkles and informs with intelligence and good intentions." —Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
This moving, and at times astonishing, memoir is a meditation on the thorny politics of racial and ethnic identity and how they have shaped American life and culture. Barnstone, a professor of comparative literature at Indiana University and the author of two earlier memoirs, was born in the 1920s to a Jewish family (originally Bornstein) but from an early age was taught to "pass" as "white"-i.e., Christian and acceptable to mainstream U.S. culture. The assimilationist messages from his mother were so strong he even slept with his nose braced on his pillow so it would grow a "permanent upward curl." Barnstone is fascinated with the idea of "passing" and how destructive it is. At heart, his memoir is a cry against "the absurdity of those distinctions in ethnicity, religion, and nation when they seem to justify the destruction of the other." And while the memoir's subtext is political, Barnstone melds it neatly with his personal history. From how it felt to be an assimilated American Jew during the Holocaust to contemplating the Nazi extermination of Greek Jews when he lives and teaches in Crete in the 1950s to discussing the similarities of anti-Semitism and racism in his experiences in the U.S. army, Barnstone weaves together life stories with a broad range of history, political analysis and literary criticism. Often his views of geopolitics sound naive ("The gang battles of West Side Story are global"), and he tends at times to the cliche. This is a curious book-half literary autobiography, half political treatise-but it sparkles and informs with intelligence and good intentions. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

Indiana University Press
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.86(w) x 8.74(h) x 0.74(d)

Meet the Author

Willis Barnstone, distinguished poet and translator, is author of two other memoirs. He is perhaps best known for his translation of The Gnostic Bible. He lives in Oakland, California.

Yusef Komunyakaa is distinguished senior poet at New York University. He has received numerous awards, including the William Faulkner Prize (Université Rennes, France), the Ruth Lilly Prize for Poetry, and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His latest book is Gilgamesh, a verse play. He lives in New York City.

Indiana University Press

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