For the New York Times Book Review, I wrote a piece about Valeria Luiselli’s novel in the shape of an archive and consider how it differs from other work (narrative nonfiction or testimonial poetry) that immerses us in the internal and external deserts that unaccompanied child migrants cross: “Which of us who has loved a child wouldn’t be moved by the evocative details of innocence snagged on the jagged fences of adult circumstance?”
An aura of contingency continues to surround Jonestown, so often portrayed as the tale of a lone madman, a charismatic crackpot who imploded in a random heart of darkness. In truth, as I have come to learn, Jonestown does not point to a singular erratic Svengali but, rather, to fundamental aspects of both my adopted and my home countries. About 70 percent of the community’s 914 dead were African Americans, whose precarious place in the country of their birth made them responsive to pitches to leave it. Their individual stories have been lost in the commemorations, an erasure that also obscures the systemic character of what unfolded. America in the 1970s was still so warped by the legacies of slavery that it inspired the followers of Jim Jones to dream elsewhere, and Guyana’s politics at the time made it fertile ground for their dreaming.
Read more in my essay for The New York Review of Books Daily.
For The New York Review of Books, I wrote about a Met exhibition of African-American portraits found at flea markets and other resting places for the forgotten. “Though salvaged, the images remain tinted by this history, their anonymity like a kind of sepia.“
In a review essay for the July issue of Prospect Magazine in the UK, I write about the memoir Ants Among Elephants, double consciousness and the rhetorical tradition of memoirs by Dalit women.
For the Sunday New York Times Book Review, I review a personal history of Ethiopia by Guardian journalist Aida Edemariam, as refracted through the life of the author’s grandmother.