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Resident Book Review for March, 2020

Mar. 17 – An American Marriage: A Novel
[Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2018] by Tayari Jones, reviewed by Ellyn Loy.


Author’s Website
A Marriage Upended, A Life Destroyed
[New York Times]
The Epistolary Heart of An American Marriage [The Atlantic]
Review [Washington Post]
Redefining The American Love Story [NPR: Code Switch]
Talking to Tayari Jones.. [LA Times]
Injustice and Intimacy… [Los Angeles Review of Books]
Review [The Guardian]
Review [Rewrite Newsletter]
Someone Always Pays.. [Rohan Maitzen]
Interview with Tayari Jones [LA Fesitival of Books] (video)
Interview with Tayari Jones [Martha’s Vineyard Authors Series] (video)
Podcast: Tayari Jones [Barnes & Noble]

Review of “An American Marriage: A Novel”

Resident Ellyn Loy will review An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones [Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2018] on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 at 7 PM in the Auditorium.

This bestselling novel is described as a “captivating love story that is also a clear-eyed look at the effects of injustice in contemporary American life. “  The story centers on an African-American couple, Celestial and Roy, young professionals who met while they were both students at historic black universities. They went separate ways after graduation, met again and married.  Roy is a tech salesman who grew up in the small town of Eloe, Louisiana.  Celestial , an artist who makes distinctive dolls, was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia.

The story develops like a spider web around an incident that happens 18 months into their marriage.. Roy is falsely accused of a crime while the couple is staying at a motel.  He is found guilty, incarcerated and sentenced to many years in prison. The characters tell what happens to this barely- experienced marriage, when this tragedy intervenes. We learn about their families and how they influenced the young couple in their personalities and their choices.

Roy and Celestial alternate telling the story.  A third character, Andre, Celestial’s lifelong friend from Atlanta, adds his perspective.  The story is told using different literary forms, beginning with the first person narrative. Later, during Roy’s incarceration, the story is told through letters the couple write to each other.  It is through these letters, and then the lack of them, that we begin to see what is happening to their American Marriage.

There are several themes that run through this novel- marriage, fatherhood, family. There are also the overriding complexities of race and class. If Roy had been white, would he have been wrongly accused and incarcerated? If Celestial and Roy had been from similar classes and backgrounds, would there have  been a different outcome?

The author, Tayari Jones, has written three previous novels. , which were well received.  She is on the English faculty of Emory University and a faculty member at-large at Cornell University.

This is Ellyn Loy’s second book review at Charlestown.   She is a Clinical Social Worker who has worked in the fields of Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse. Presently she is employed by The University of Maryland School of Social Work as a Faculty Liaison for Social Work students in the field.

Janet Neer and Jane Backstrom, Book Review Coordinators

Resident Book Review for February, 2020

Feb. 18 – On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century. [New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017] by Timothy Snyder, reviewed by Ken Weeden.


Scholars Strategy Network Present Snyder’s 20 Key Findings
Author’s website

Book Excerpts [Google Books]
Book Review [The Guardian]
20 ways to recognize tyranny — and fight it  [Washington Post]
Interview [NPR]
Review/Interview [CBC Radio]
Interview [Woodrow Wilson Center] (video)
Interview [Politics and Prose Bookstore] (video)
Interview [Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs] (video)
An idiot’s guide to tyranny…  [The Berkshire Edge]
On Tyranny: Yale Historian….. [Democracy Now]
Review [Reason and Meaning]
Review [The Humanist]

**See monthly Community Special Events calendar for scheduled book reviews.

Review of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century

Resident Ken Weeden will review On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 at 7 PM in the Auditorium.

“History does not repeat, but it does instruct.” Thus begins Timothy Snyder’s short book on what the growth of Nazism in the late 1920s and ‘30s to, the Soviet Union’s takeover of Eastern Europe after WWII and the democratic movements thereafter in the 1980s and 1990s can tell us about where our  political system is headed in this decade. He is fearful that he sees warning signs that suggest our democracy is slipping away.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-91 and the emergence of democratic governments in Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and other former Soviet satellite states, many people thought democracy was inevitable and there could be no turning back. Snyder warns that such thoughts are mere wishes. The European wars and massacres of large numbers of innocent people in the 20th century often took place in democratic countries and regions that were undermined very quickly, in five years or less, and turned into dictatorial regimes.

And how does that happen? Snyder suggests that there are twenty red-flashing warning signs that a democracy is weak and headed toward dictatorial takeover. The first sign is when most people automatically follow orders, some even enthusiastically initiating expansion of what the leaders want of them. Hitler warned that Communists and Jews caused Germany’s woes and needed to be dealt with; Stalin warned that rich farmers were the enemy of the state and the “pigs” should be dealt with. People complied; they weren’t Jews or Communists or pigs.

Another sign of decay is professionals turning their backs on codes of ethics. Lawyers are to defend due process, journalists to seek the truth, doctors to do no harm, the military to follow lawful orders and not wage war against civilians. But what if they don’t? Then we can have show trials, doctors can perform horrible experiments, businesses can bid for slave labor and the military can slaughter noncombatants.

Although this book was written in 2017, the author’s warnings of the drift away from democratic principles began decades ago. His observations are worth pondering and discussing.

Dr. Timothy Snyder is an author and historian of Central and Eastern Europe and the Holocaust at Yale University. He is also a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and The Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has written over a dozen books.

Janet Neer and Jane Backstrom, Book Review Co-Chairs

Resident Book Review for January, 2020

Jan. 21 – Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
[New York: Doubleday, 2016] by Jane Mayer, reviewed by Lon Chesnutt.


Review by Alan Ehrenhalt [New York Times]
Index of 12 reviews of Dark Money [Book Mark]
Jane Mayer Discusses Her Book  [BookTV, C-SPAN2] (video)
‘Hidden History’ Of Koch Brothers….[Fresh Air, NPR] (video)
Benefactors with Great Wealth [National Review]
Review [Society of Environmental Journalists]
A Must Read: Jane Mayer’s ‘Dark Money’ [Bill Moyers]
Nazi Oil, the Koch Brothers and a Rightwing Revolution [The Guardian]
Book excerpts  [Google Books]
Who Owns the GOP? [Dissent Magazine]
Review  [Washington Independent Review of Books]
Dark Money: Jane Mayer on How the Koch Bros… [Democracy Now]
A Conversation Between Hendrik Hertzberg and Jane Mayer [at Dartmouth Univ] (video)


Review of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

Resident Lon Chesnutt will review Dark Money by Jane Mayer on Tuesday, January 21, 2020 at 7 PM in the Auditorium.

If you’ve ever wondered about who started the ‘Tea Party’ in Congress, or who’s behind it’s operation, or why the title ‘Citizen’s United’ is the designation for such a small conservative group that has global power, then this is the book review you should attend. Lon Chesnutt, who has been offering a review every year since 2007, is giving it on January 21. The author of DARK MONEY, Jane Mayer, is a well-respected journalist on staff of the ‘New Yorker’ magazine. She’s also author of three other books including THE DARK SIDE, which treated the war on terror and how it affected American ideals, and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Not very well known is the fact that brothers Charles and David (recently died in August, 2019) Koch were listed as the sixth and seventh wealthiest men in the world in 2009. With each owning between fourteen to sixteen billion dollars, they have been pumping millions of dollars into conservative causes since the 1970’s. For them, free enterprise is what has made America great, and any government law or regulation that regulates business should be fought or opposed as binding on one’s personal freedom.

That’s the theme of DARK MONEY, as Mayer traces the rise of Koch Industries, Inc., a family business out of Wichita, Kansas. She shows how their private foundations, the Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, has channeled over 88 Million Dollars as educational gifts through their non-taxable system into political campaigns and business fights for conservative causes. Mayer follows the Kochs and other conservative billionaires as they come together to make their philosophy the normative thought for current Americans.

The book is filled with many explicit examples of malfeasance and will cause you to think twice about which politician to support. More importantly, it should give one incentive to learn more about political systems in order to then build a stronger democracy.

Janet Neer and Jane Backstrom, Book Review Co-Chairs
~The Sunburst, January 2020~