Tag Archives: racism

Black Like Me

Notes From a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stern (Knopf, $26.00, 271 pages)

There were moments when I felt like I was being called the N-word with no one actually saying it. No one had to and maybe they were too smart to. So it was left to me to decide whether it was because I was black or because I was just me…

Anyone who has read and enjoyed the classic Kitchen Confidential by the late Anthony Bourdain may enjoy the memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef by Kwame Ounwuachi. Like Bourdain, Onwuachi is an interesting mix of confidence and uncertainty. While struggling with numerous aspects of working in the restaurant industry, Onwuachi can come off as bombastic and arrogant as when he writes that “my arrival (in the District of Columbia) was greeted with a lot of excitement and anticipation.” Perhaps so, but it did not result in enough people visiting Shaw Bijou, Onwuachi’s signature restaurant, for it to remain in business.

The key reason Shaw Bijou failed likely goes to the base cover charge – sold as an admission ticket, of $185 per person, not including tip and drinks. The flaw in this account by a talented young chef is that he attributes most of his stumbles and unforced errors to racism, even when the reader sees other factors in play. Still, Onwuachi has gone on to earn the title of “The most important chef in America” from the San Francisco Chronicle. You will need to read the sometimes surreal Notes – an entertaining, imperfect story – to find out why.

Recommended for foodies and those interested in what it takes to run a successful restaurant and why restaurants fail.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Alfred A. Knopf. This book, which includes thirteen recipes, was released on April 9, 2019.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Rest of the Story

no one ever asked

No One Ever Asked: A Novel by Katie Ganshert (Waterbrook, $14.99, 368 pages)

Sometimes a promising novel is destroyed by the story telling structure selected by the author.  I found this to be the case with No One Ever Asked.  The fictional tale, about racism and socio-economic differences that affect two public school districts in Missouri, is a worthwhile one.  Ganshert well illustrates how racism impacts everyone – rich and poor, majority race or minority – whether it is overt, covert, deliberately hurtful, or inadvertent.  And this would have been a relevant read for these times if only she had written the tale in standard chronological form.  She did not.

No One starts with a dramatic event.  The event covered in the Prologue – something a novel almost never needs, takes place near the end of the events covered in this book.  Thus, the next 300 or more pages take the reader back in time to see what preceded the climactic event.  The reader’s patience might not have been tried if Ganshert had taken 10, 20 or even 30 pages to “set up” the non-linear story in this unexpected way.  Unfortunately, and regrettably, she used 300 or more pages to do so.  Not only this, she often refers to events that, in legal terms, “are not in evidence.”  For example, an incident that occurred in a boy’s high school locker room is referenced multiple times.  But the reader is never informed, until near the very end of the telling, as to what exactly was involved in this incident.

Hiding the ball from the reader in this fashion builds up fatigue and frustration.  I was ready to put the book down many times, for good.

There’s also the distressing fact that No One has so many characters – white and black, prosperous and poor, that you would need to keep a spread sheet in order to keep track of them.  And the author’s style is not only confusing and sometimes bewildering, but often choppy.

By the end of No One Ever Asked, I realized that Ganshert had written a decent story which might have been enjoyable had she simply kept it straight (chronological) and simple.  She did not.  I am hopeful that an editor will advise her to follow the common path of storytelling in her next effort.  Cleverness for its own sake is rarely a reward for the reader.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

No One Ever Asked was published on April 3, 2018.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Ebony and Ivory

under-one-roof-by-adam-henig-front-cover

He’s taught in his school/From the start by the rule/That the laws are with him/To protect his white skin… Bob Dylan, “Only a Pawn in Their Game”

Under One Roof: The Yankees, the Cardinals, and a Doctor’s Battle to Integrate Spring Training by Adam Henig (Wise Ink, $9.95, 146 pages)

Much has been written and passed on about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball and the history of the Negro Leagues. However, that single act was only the beginning of a long struggle for equality in major league baseball and society. Those that followed suffered significant abuse and hardship all to often. Hank Aaron was the target of vile, despicable hatred when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. That, too, has been chronicled in great detail. The travails of African American baseball players during spring training received far less scrutiny, as has their journey through minor league cities in the south during the 50s, 60s, and beyond.

Adam Henig shines a light on the subject in Under One Roof. It is more of a flashlight than a spotlight, as had he chosen he could have expanded his tale to include a more substantial account of the travails of these athletes and the social mores of the time. As it stands, he confined his story to the efforts of civil rights activist, Dr. Ralph Wimbish and his work to integrate the community of St. Petersburg, Florida.

In the early 60s, St. Petersburg was the spring training home of both the Cardinals and the Yankees. Pitcher Bob Gibson of the Cardinals and catcher Elston Howard of the Yankees were among the prominent black players on those teams. At that time they and their other black teammates were not allowed to stay at the same hotel as their white counterparts. Instead, separate housing arrangements were made in segregated parts of town. Special transportation and other provisions were secured to accommodate these players.

Henig seems to be interested in telling a story more than creating an historical record which, in the end, likely serves the same purpose. Although it is a good read, and while there is research, interviews, and other supporting documentation, this is a very important topic and – had he chosen to do so, he could have gone into greater depth. The actual text runs 100 pages and the book is accessible to younger readers, which is a good thing, and would make excellent reading for middle school students and/or other classes.

My former high school coach, Ron Herr, was a phenomenal pitcher who came within a sliver of making the big leagues. He later briefly served as a coach with the Atlanta Braves. He often told us stories of the inhuman treatment that Rico Carty, Aaron, and other were subject to – buses pulling over when players needed to use a restroom and the inevitable conflict to follow, as well as predictable stories involving restaurants, housing, and fan behavior.

Gladly, my children live in (and to their credit espouse) a more tolerant and accepting society than previous generations. We are certainly not there yet, as is evidenced by recent tragedies in Ferguson, MO, Charleston, SC, and daily chaos in the south and west sides of Chicago that will likely break records for shootings and fatalities. I applaud Henig for keeping these stories alive for younger generations, who were not around to know just how tumultuous a time this was in our country’s history. If there is any criticism of the book, it would be that he only scratched the surface.

under-one-roof-amazon

Here’s hoping for a better tomorrow.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was received from the author. Adam Henig is also the author of Alex Haley’s Roots: An Author’s Odyssey.

This book was released on April 25, 2016.

Dave Moyer is an educator, former baseball player and coach, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How Can I Tell You

Everything I Never Told You (nook book)

Everything I Never Told You Ng

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel by Celeste Ng (The Penguin Press, $26.95, 292 pages)

“James is all too familiar with this kind of forgetting. From Lloyd Academy to Harvard to Middlewood, he has felt it every day – that short-lived lull, then the sharp edge to the ribs that reminded you that you didn’t belong.”

Celeste Ng’s novel is about a Chinese-American family in the truest sense of the words; James Lee is a Chinese-American professor married to an Anglo woman. Although born in the U.S., “(James) had never felt he belonged here….” James has consistently experienced discrimination as a minority resident of Ohio – an experience his wife Marilyn has largely been exempted from, and his sense of bitterness has been building up. Matters come to a head when his fifteen-year-old daughter Lydia goes missing, and is eventually found dead.

The loss of Lydia threatens to destroy the Lees’ marriage as Lydia was the favorite of their three children, a daughter in whom their hopes for a perfect future had been placed. This family novel is also a mystery as the circumstances of Lydia’s death are largely unknown. Marilyn Lee makes it her mission to “figure out what happened… She will find out who is responsible. She will find out what went wrong.”

Everything Ng

Ng’s thought-provoking tale informs us that a sudden tragedy can either destroy individuals or give them the chance to start anew. And this unique, engaging novel reminds us that “the great American melting pot” operates haphazardly and imperfectly.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Pitcher

The Pitcher: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehlerbooks, $15.95, 241 pages)

The Pitcher (nook book)

“I had a friend who was a big baseball player back in high school/ He could through that speedball by you/ Make you look like a fool, boy…/ Glory days, they’ll pass you by….” Bruce Springsteen, “Glory Days”

The Pitcher is Jack Langford, a 25-year major league baseball veteran, whose existence consists of watching games on television in his garage and drinking Good Times beer. Ricky, who lives across the street from Jack, is an aspiring pitcher on the cusp of high school with much more arm than control. Ricky’s mother is a noble soul, trying to raise her son and advance his future in the midst of racism, poverty, and violence.

The writing flows smoothly, the characters are interesting, and the story itself is intriguing. The Pitcher is clearly an enjoyable read, particularly well suited for young adult males. Its only detractors are those baseball purists who like everything in their baseball literature to 100% accurately reflect the game down to the smallest minutiae. From strictly a baseball standpoint, there are some technical inaccuracies (e.g., when Jack finally agrees to give lessons to Ricky and help him make the team, they are nothing like what pitching lessons would actually consist of). There are some others as well, such as description of the interactions between umpires and coaches, coaches and players, etc. However, this is fiction, and in all fiction one must be willing to suspend disbelief. If the baseball fanatic can get past some of that, there is much for them to enjoy here. The story will bring back feelings like hope or joy or disappointment for those who once played the game.

The premise of The Pitcher is strong. This reviewer cannot help but speculate how the major issues dealt with in the book (racism, immigration reform, how to live when one’s dreams seem to be over, domestic violence, access to health care, etc.) would have translated to a larger audience if not confined to a first-person telling by Ricky, whose 8th grade maturity level and vocabulary do not always do them justice.

All of that being said, The Pitcher is a worthy rendering of the age old theme of a boy, a ball, and a dream.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the author. Dave Moyer is an education administrator and a former college baseball player. He is also the author of Life and Life Only, a novel about baseball and Bob Dylan.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I Hear The Laughter

Stand Up Revolution

Is an entire season of TV comedy on one DVD too much or not enough?

DVD Review: Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand-Up Revolution, Season 2

People pay up to $75 and $80 a seat to see Gabriel Iglesias (AKA Fluffy) perform his comedy in places like Lake Tahoe and Reno. So paying $19.99 for a video disc of his comedy seems, at first glance, like a bargain. However, here Iglesias and his very funny Master of Ceremonies, Martin Moreno, basically serve as the introducers of new comedy talent – some of it average, some of it excellent. There are twelve separate upcoming comedians who come on stage in south Florida, doing a quick – and sometimes not-so-quick – run-through of their nightly act. This disc presents the entire second season of Comedy Central’s show Stand-Up Revolution and some may wish that there was less here rather than more.

With two exceptions, the comedians featured in this compilation are either Hispanic or African or African-American. They might have placed an advisory sticker on the DVD reading, “This is intended for audiences that love ethnic humor. It may not be appropriate for all viewers.” The audiences present during the taping sessions were virtually all Hispanic, and they clearly enjoyed the jabs at their own cultural mores and those of other minority groups.

Trevor Noah, the first of the many comedians, is a mixed race comedian from Africa. He noted that his father was black and his white mother was from Switzerland, as “The Swiss love chocolate.” Noah seems like a nice guy, but not a terribly funny one. Dov Davidoff is the Anglo comedian who appears next and warns the audience to “lower your expectations.” He’s a comedian who tries to pretend that he’s not funny, but he is as he jokes about the economy being so bad that people now watch reality TV to see other people working.

Nick Guerra from south Texas does a pretty average routine about males being dumb and disgusting. It seems like this territory has been well-covered before. Gina Yashere, a black woman from England, is truly funny as when she alerts the audience to the fact that, “Black people are not indigenous to England.” Her set about her return visit to her native Nigeria is pretty much worth the price of admission.

Dillon Garcia is a chubby white-Mexican comedian who tells some good jokes about food and personal relationships. Garcia is followed by Will Sylvince from Haiti. Sylvince will have your sides aching from laughing. His act is almost indescribable – it needs to be seen to be appreciated.

The seventh comedian on stage, Dustin Ybarra, relies on drug and bathroom humor. We’ve heard all this before. Fast forward to Thai Rivera, a gay Mexican-American from Arizona. Yes, that’s right, he’s gay and from the state of Arizona – “I’m not racist. I’m just from Arizona.” Ybarra’s unique digs at his own culture are close to priceless. When told that he doesn’t look Mexican he responds, “Oh, I’m sorry, I left my leaf blower at home.”

Alfred Robles of East Los Angeles is interesting, if not much more, and African-American Tony Baker also revisits some old comic territory. Ian Bagg arrives to save the day with some truly outrageous and funny comedy, before the baton is passed to the final performer, Pablo Francisco. Francisco does nothing memorable.

Big fans of the big comedian Gabriel Iglesias may be disappointed because he only makes brief appearances between the dozen comedians that he and Moreno bring on stage. If you’re a huge fan of Fluffy, you might want to wait for an “all-Iglesias” DVD or save up for one of those costly tickets to see him live and in person.

Recommended, for select audiences.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy of the DVD was provided by a publicist. This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Video (TV/Film) site: http://blogcritics.org/video/article/dvd-review-gabriel-iglesias-presents-stand/

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

You’ve Got Your Troubles

The Neighbors are Watching: A Novel by Debra Ginsberg (Crown; $23.99; 325 pages)

“It was as if Gloria was sabotaging herself, Sam thought.   Well, they were both sabotaging themselves, just going about it from opposite directions.”

Debra Ginsberg has populated her latest novel with a score of self-sabotaging and dysfunctional characters.   This is the story of Diana, a young pregnant woman who is thrown out of her mother’s home and forced to live with the father she’s never known.   Dad Joe lives in the suburbs of San Diego near the ocean with his second wife, Allison.   Joe made Allison abort her only pregnancy years earlier, and Allison knows nothing about the existence of Diana.   Therefore, when she appears on Joe’s driveway the marriage is suddenly in serious trouble.

But it turns out that everyone in the neighborhood is in trouble as the fires of late October and early November 2007 approach.   Fourteen people died and at least 70 were injured when a half-million acres burned.   One million San Diego County residents were evacuated, the largest evacuation in California history.   This is the not-so-pleasant back-drop for Ginsberg’s troubled tale.

It appears that all of the neighbors in Joe’s suburban community have their serious quirks and troubles.   There’s a sometimes-happy and sometimes-bickering lesbian couple, Sam and Gloria, and a heterosexual married couple, the Werners, whose son Kevin is a lazy weed smoker with no intellectual or athletic skills.   This is a ‘hood that is seemingly over-populated with drug users and abusers.   One has to wonder how accurate a reflection this is of America’s Finest City and its residents.

The one exception to the group of losers is an Asian couple, whose quiet son shoots hoops and practices the piano for hours on end.   This is a stereotype of sorts, although it’s one that was likely not meant to be offensive.   However, Ginsberg includes a highly troubling reference to Diana, who happens to be half African-American.   Early on, Kevin’s mother refers to Diana as “an uppity pregnant girl who had no business even being in the neighborhood in the first place.”   This is offensive on two counts – first, in using a term that is knowingly offensive to African-Americans, and also in the implication that there’s a “place” within which people of a certain color are not welcome.

Perhaps Ginsberg intended this non-P.C. reference to serve as a reminder of the destructiveness of racism, but she could and should have adopted a more subtle and temperate way of expressing that notion.   Another flaw with the telling is that Ginsberg chooses the rather unfortunate name of Joe Montana for Diana’s father, which makes it seem like some kind of inside joke.   “Joe Montana, like the football player?”   Yes.

One of the key problems with Neighbors is that the story is made needlessly complex.   When Diana surfaces with disastrous consequences for her father’s and stepmother’s marriage, the storyline seems logical.   But then Ginsberg takes it further – Joe suddenly has an affair with a young neighbor and Diana hooks up with Kevin, the worst possible choice for her.   More is not always better.

There’s this dividing line…  A dividing line between the fictional account which feels to a reader like real life, and the feeling that it’s a good effort but there’s a sense of magic that’s lacking.   Ginsberg produced a fine attempt in this novel but it struck this reader as a manuscript rather than as a fully developed work.   It needed some editing, trimming and rethinking.   All in all, the author seemed to be sabotaging herself like the characters in her dysfunctional fictional neighborhood.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized