“This book is dedicated to all white people everywhere…Just kidding! The opposite of that! This book is dedicated to our family and friends who experienced all these stories with us…Just kidding, this book is dedicated to El Debarge!”
The World Record Book of Racist Stories 5/5
I normally quote the first line of the book, but here that line is scene-setting and doesn’t say much out of context. So I quote the dedication, and if you haven’t read the first book, you can see what kind of humor and tone you’re in for. If you have, you now know to expect more of the same from the first book. This book, which is the sisters’ second together, takes the idea perfectly executed from the first book and broadens it out to include more friends’ and family members’ experience with everyday racism. The range of the racism in terms of intensity always stays below the level of physical violence (well, not really exactly, but kind of), and most often involves microagressions and their cousin, the macroaggressions. This helps to paint the picture of these moments in terms of people unthinkingly voicing unconscious prejudices and biases to blatant acts of prejudice. Somewhere in the middle there is the passive-aggressions, where someone is trying to be racist but be cute about it.
The funniest element of the book itself is people talking themselves into being the book. This book is best read second so that the meta-commentary lands more effectively, but otherwise you could pick either. The range of stories here still often circulate around Lacey’s stories in and around Omaha, Nebraska, which for me is a complete blank on the map. I mostly don’t mean that as a kind of east coast elitism, I, too, am from nowhere special, but more so in the sense that I have been in Minneapolis, Chicago, St Louis, San Antonio, and literally no where else “west” except for California, so the localization of this is interesting, but a little alien to me. And of course Omaha is nowhere special in the sense of standing out for its racism. Generally around the US, there’s flavors of racism more than distinct intensities of it.
The stories range from hilarious at times to deeply sad, with some level of anger and sadness through all of them. Amber and Lacey’s commentary is always welcome and funny, and of course, the audiobook version is a real gem.
Watch on the Rhine 4/5
This play was first performed in 1941 and joins the handful of other works that I’ve read that remind readers that pretty much everyone knew what the Nazis were up to all along, within a much broader range than became part of the mythos. I am thinking also of Christopher Isherwood’s books, Mephisto by Klaus Mann, and The Great Dictator among others.
The play takes place in a Washington DC estate house. Matriarch Fanny Farrelly is waiting for her children to arrive home. Her oldest daughter she has not seen in years, and has been living all around Europe with her husband, an antifascist exiled German, and their three children. In addition, there are two houseguests in the scene, a Romanian count and his wife, who we find out has had some kind of affair with Fanny’s son, a DC lawyer, following in the footsteps of the dead patriarch Joshua Farrelly.
When the oldest daughter arrives home, we realize than Fanny has never met her grandchildren before, and the scene involves tender and funny moments as Fanny realizes that her half-American grandchildren are basically entirely German.
As we move forward we learn that Kurt, the husband, has not been working and they’ve been surviving like a lot of exiles, through charity and lack. We slowly come to understand that Kurt is not just an antifascist in stance, but in action, as he’s been working for a resistance group. It’s early in the war and the true heroism of these fighters is not yet quite understood or recognized in general. We also realize that the Romanian count has recognized Kurt and intends to do something. It’s not clear early on. As the play unfolds and there’s a lot of moving parts in this play, Kurt’s past and future are tied up, and Fanny and her son Josh will be given the opportunity to make a moral choice about how they will act.
The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
Here’s the full title:
“A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, A Minister’s Wife in New-England: Wherein is set forth, The Cruel and Inhumane Usage she underwent amongst Heathens for Eleven Weeks time: And her Deliverance from them.”
I do love old books for their ridiculous titles. Mary Rowlandson was a Puritan woman living in Lancaster Massachusetts with her husband and children. During a nighttime raid in the midst of the Pequot War, she is taken captive alongside her youngest child, and the rest of her servants and children are killed. Her husband is away, according to the preface, securing more garrison for the town. Throughout the next eleven weeks she is moved from settlement to settlement along with other captives before she is eventually freed and returns home. This book is a memoir of her time and the kind of religious interpretation she makes of it.
The book was also published with an preface by “Per Amicum” (by a friend) who was likely Increase Mather, who tells us to read the memoir as a testimony to Mary’s faith through suffering while also forgiving her against the claim of self-promotion or profit by publishing her story. The Puritan form of Calvinism tended to be very predestination/undeniable election, and so stories like this often became an attempt to read testing of faith into suffering (what is usually called affliction in their writings).
“All we had left was held captive here on the reservation, Mary Rowlandson, and I
saw you there chewing salmon strips in the corner, hiding from all the Indians. Did
you see him, Mary Rowlandson, the Indian man who has haunted your waking for
300 years, who left you alone sipping coffee in the reservation 711? I saw you there,
again, as I walked home from the bar, grinning to the stars, but all you could do was
wave from the window and mouth the eternal question: How? ”
This poem by Sherman Alexie takes on Mary Rowlandson’s story and places it within a centuries’ long scope both by imagining her within his own context, growing up on a reservation, and thinking back on the history and policy and culture that stem from Mary Rowlandson’s legacy. I guess I mean to say that she represents and embodies a cultural legacy that had real-world impact and results, so much as being instrumental in it. A part of culture, but not all of culture, obviously.
The poem jumps back and forth between the position of imagining a white girl named Mary being “captive” on Alexie’s version of reservation life while also thinking about the historical writing as well. As is usually true with Alexie’s writing, it’s both deeply sad and uncomfortably hilarious.