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Book Marks: A Roundup of Brilliant Book Reviews

Sarah Cypher on Kaveh Akbar’s Martyr!

In Sarah Cypher’s review of Kaveh Akbar’s novel “Martyr!”, she extols the author’s ability to weave a tapestry of perspectives that illuminate four turbulent decades of history, from the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq War to ethereal scenes transcending time. Cypher lauds Akbar’s exploration of how individual suffering becomes legible at the level of empire, questioning what transforms a death into a martyrdom. She commends Akbar’s unwavering focus on the limitations of language and his self-aware narrative strategy, which lend the novel both depth and clarity. Cypher also acknowledges Akbar’s skillful use of sacred and poetic texts, as well as his incorporation of new poetry written from the perspective of the novel’s protagonist, Cyrus. She concludes by highlighting Akbar’s talent for distilling meaning from the surreal through metaphor and humor, inviting readers to embrace a queer sense-making that finds no answers but revels in fascination.

Menachem Kaiser on József Debreczeni’s Cold Crematorium: Reporting From the Land of Auschwitz

Menachem Kaiser’s review of József Debreczeni’s “Cold Crematorium: Reporting From the Land of Auschwitz” is a stark and haunting exploration of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. Kaiser praises Debreczeni’s unflinching attention to detail, which creates an immediate and visceral confrontation with the atrocities of the camps. He notes that Debreczeni’s writing defies not only description but also moral comprehension, highlighting the cartoonish cruelty that defies explanation. Kaiser particularly commends the book’s final third, where Debreczeni is assigned to the “cold crematorium,” a place where inmates too sick to work are left to die. He praises Debreczeni’s ability to craft a panoptic depiction of hell, sketching the human beings and lives lost as their corpses are carried out and flung into a lime pit. Kaiser concludes by emphasizing that the finest examples of Holocaust literature, including “Cold Crematorium,” are not merely bulwarks against obscurity but offer an unyielding and unsoftened glimpse of the horrors of the camps.

Becca Rothfeld on Adam Shatz’s The Rebel’s Clinic: The Revolutionary Lives of Frantz Fanon

Becca Rothfeld’s review of Adam Shatz’s “The Rebel’s Clinic: The Revolutionary Lives of Frantz Fanon” delves into the life and legacy of the psychiatrist, philosopher, and revolutionary Frantz Fanon. Rothfeld highlights that a biography of Fanon is also a biography of the world he fought to change, as he understood the inseparability of individuals from their political context. She emphasizes Fanon’s pioneering approach of “social therapy,” which classified personal pathologies as political symptoms, and his work as the director of a mental hospital in colonial Algeria during the country’s fight for independence. Rothfeld commends Shatz’s nimble and engrossing writing, which demonstrates that Fanon was not as one-dimensionally bellicose as he is often portrayed. She notes that Shatz shows Fanon as a victim of empire just as much as the patients he worked to heal. Rothfeld concludes by praising Shatz’s exemplary work of public intellectualism, which does not sugarcoat or simplify the complex life and ideas of Frantz Fanon.

Linda Villarosa on Antonia Hylton’s Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum

Linda Villarosa’s review of Antonia Hylton’s “Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum” explores the troubling history of manipulating psychology to control Black Americans in the United States. Villarosa highlights the disturbing history of white physicians arguing that Black people were immune to mental illness and the classification of escape attempts as “drapetomania.” She emphasizes the use of psychology to control Black Americans after the prohibition of slavery, with the rounding up of “feeble-minded” Blacks and their placement in asylums as indentured servants. Villarosa praises Hylton’s book for shedding light on the continued lack of understanding, treatment, and care for the mental health of Black people. She notes the story of Jordan Neely, who was labeled “unhinged” and a “vagrant” by The New York Post after his public killing, despite his need for treatment and care. Villarosa concludes by emphasizing the importance of Hylton’s work in highlighting the ongoing challenges in addressing the mental health needs of Black Americans.

Daniel Felsenthal on Robert Glück’s About Ed

Daniel Felsenthal’s review of Robert Glück’s “About Ed” delves into the author’s exploration of grief, mortality, and the complexities of romantic love. Felsenthal praises Glück’s slow and deliberate writing process, which allowed him to create a literary monument that harnesses memoir’s emotional honesty while indulging fiction’s stylistic latitude. He notes that Glück’s subject is not only Ed but also his generation of gay men, many of whom lost their lives to AIDS. Felsenthal commends Glück’s defiant celebration of sex and his ability to portray the mysteries of the flesh with shameless feeling and magnificent precision. He highlights Glück’s use of the New Narrative style, which encourages active self-questioning on the page, as he revisits the past through moments that he can neither forget nor firmly grasp. Felsenthal concludes by emphasizing the book’s exploration of the limits of human connection and the sadness and mystery that arise from the inability to fully inhabit and connect with another person.

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