Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America

Review: "Rhodes-Pitts, an essayist and recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award, takes as her title a 1948 essay wherein Ralph Ellison describes 'nowhere' as the crossroads where personal reality meets the metaphorical meanings attached to people and places. A transplant to Harlem from Texas, Rhodes-Pitts began a personal journey into the iconic neighborhood, poring over Harlem in literature and life, reading its empty lots and street scenes, its billboards and memorials for clues to what it means to inhabit a dream (that fabled sanctuary for Black Americans) and a real place (the all too material neighborhood buckling beneath relentless gentrification). Acutely conscious of the writer's simultaneous role of participant in and recorder of present and past, Rhodes-Pitts weaves a glittering living tapestry of snatches of overheard conversation, sidewalk chalk scribbles, want ads, unspoken social codes, literary analysis, studies of black slang--all if it held together with assurance and erudition. Like Zora Neale Hurston (whose contradictions she nails), she is 'tour-guide and interpreter' of a Mecca cherished and feared, a place enduring and threatened that becomes home. (Jan.) Bard, the head of nonprofit advocacy group American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, takes a historical look at the relationship between the United States and the lobbying efforts of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Bard examines these relations over time and argues that many of the political actions taken by the U.S. have been aimed at appeasing this lobby; even decisions surrounding the establishment of Palestine, he suggests, were influenced by lobbyist complaints. To Bard, there's no mistaking the main motivation behind U.S. interest in Arab lands, and as far back as the mid ‘30s, the U.S. recognized the strategic importance of Arabian peninsula oil. Bard examines the lobby's beginnings, going back to 1917 when England's call for a Jewish homeland in Palestine sparked opposition, to their current 'brainwashing' of children ('American taxpayers... subsidize... K-12 education materials on the Middle East that have been created under Saudi auspices') to the 'conspiracy theory' woven by the authors of The Israeli Lobby. A subject this intrinsic to U.S. foreign policy deserves a more rigorous examination than what Bard can undertake, given his position of advocacy. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
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