In this issue:
Books: In Our Endangered Values, America ’s Moral Crisis, former president Jimmy Carter take a long, level look at what is happening in America, contrasting today’s various moral crises with those of the past, and sounding a clarion cry for change in the future.
Toyin Falola in A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt writes with humor, truth, and purpose.One may hope that this is just the first volume.
And Consider This: Simi Linton’s memoir, My Body Politic, is a summoning to the necessity for “affirmative actions of a new and as yet unwritten form to make inclusion, integration, and participation a given of the twenty-first century.”
OUR ENDANGERED VALUES
America ’s Moral Crisis
by Jimmy Carter, © 2005
Simon & Schuster, NY, 200 pp
This carefully-reasoned, plainly-stated book should be widely read and discussed in homes and book clubs all over America. No matter what one thinks of Jimmy Carter and/or his presidency, his passionate cry deserves serious consideration and debate.
Former President Carter has chosen to take a long, level look at what is happening in America, contrasting today’s various moral crises with those of the past, and sounding a clarion cry for change in the future.
In the chapters, he touches on his own religious faith; the rise of fundamentalism and extremism; the conflict (or rather, the lack thereof) between religion and science; the current intertwining of Church and State; American foreign policy; nuclear proliferation; environmental challenges; and a host of other subjects. At every turn, he presents careful research, along with comments by experts in the field. Whether or not you agree with him, you will have to admit that he has done his homework.
In addition to investigating the major areas that he feels are the heart of our moral crisis, President Carter states unequivocally that the greatest challenge to the world for the new millennium will be reconciling the huge gap between those who have a great deal, and those who have almost nothing. It is a gap that escalated alarmingly during the 20 th century, and shows few signs of correction at this point.
Carter feels that we in the United States, who have more of everything than any other people in history, have also an obligation to correct many of the wrongs he lists. We are, he says, poised at the brink of being able to do great good in the world, to emerge as not only a superpower but also as the great, moral leader of the world. Unfortunately, forces now at work in our society have imperiled that possibility through greed, and abandonment of the basic principles of our democracy.
Although he takes great pains to quote from members of both the right and the left, Carter’s personal feelings are clearly stated, and he is extremely critical of the Bush Administration. For example, Carter notes that from the very beginning of our country, we have been different from the old world in our treatment of prisoners because George Washington, horrified at the British mandate to show no quarter to prisoners, insisted on humane treatment of captured British soldiers. Carter scarcely needs to point out that we have lost that high moral ground under the practices of the current Administration.
Our Endangered Values stands as a strong statement of faith, and a rallying cry for all who are worried about what is happening in our country. It offers more than history and observation; it also offers healing prescriptions for many of our woes. Any citizen concerned about our country’s course will benefit from reading it and giving deep thought to the questions that it raises.
an African memoir
by Toyin Falola, © 2004
University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor; 271 pp
This little autobiography offers the reader a fascinating glimpse into the life of a young Yoruba from Nigeria. Toyin Falola, who is now a Distinguished Teaching Professor and the Frances Higginbothom Nalle Centennial Professor of History at the University of Texas/Austin, as well as Nelson Mandela Professor of African Studies-at-large, recounts for us his childhood growing up in a polygamous household in a small Nigerian city.
It was many years before Falola figured out which of his father’s wives was his real mother. In that household, children obeyed any of the mamas who spoke to them, but especially the “old mama,” who was his father’s first wife.
The writing in this book is strongly aphoristic, and the animal metaphors that one might expect from an African abound. For instance, in talking about the difficulties presented by the young Nigerian government’s sudden insistence on birth certificates, Falola explains how those whose parents never bothered to register them needed to improvise, if not outright lie, to protect themselves. “The frog,” he says, “does not know that there are two worlds until it jumps into hot water.” Or, describing the intricacies and delays involved in obtaining permission to quote copyrighted material: “...whoever attempts to catch a cricket must move slowly...” At another time, he describes a man who was asked for a loan thus: “the host, refusing to be a moneylender, not about to become the eager antelope with the elephant shoes who can no longer run fast enough to discourage being killed by a hunter...” etc.
Again: in recounting his boyhood balancing act between the dictums of the mamas and the lure of his friends: “The heart is like a plant that grows wherever it wants.”
These and other frequent similes and metaphors give a ring of authenticity for those of us in the western world, taught as we have been about the great African tradition of the griot. However, while Falola’s convoluted prose is at times delightful, an entire book of it can begin to cloy. I found myself having to put the book down for long stretches to recover my equilibrium and interest.
Recover I did, however, and was grateful for the chance to learn so much about childhood in another part of the world. Falola writes with humor, truth, and purpose. His little coming-of-age story stops before his entrance into the university and his foray into the adult world. One may hope that this is just the first volume. It would be enlightening to learn about his future paths, and his adjustment to living and teaching in the western world.
Page Two of Review: My Body Politic
Julia Sneden is a writer, reviewer, teacher, wife, mother, grandmother and care-giver. She lives in North Carolina. jbsneden can be reached by email (at) triad.rr.com