New e-book and audiobook non-fiction by Elizabeth Dickinson, Margo Jefferson and Philip Weinstein

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 November, 2015, 12:26am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 November, 2015, 12:26am

Godfathers and Thieves
by Elizabeth Dickinson
Deca (e-book)

Godfathers and Thieves is another reason to support Deca, whose platform bolsters long-form journalism. Published as a Kindle Single, this book looks at the Syrian diaspora that dug into their pockets to send money, medicine and other necessities to countrymen left behind in Syria. Dickinson tells the complicated story through businessman Mezyan Al Barazi, whose fortunes have waxed and waned in the decades since he first fled his country. During the Arab spring, Barazi was among the Syrians abroad who, seeing what had happened to the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, believed Bashar al-Assad’s downfall was imminent. Which is why, in 2011, Barazi stepped up to help manage a Facebook group that coordinated support by Syrian expats. They gave everything from phones to blankets, money and weapons. Dickinson shows how the effort changed with escalating violence and explains how aid became caught up in the war economy. Homesickness, sadly, joins hands with venality and desperation.

 

Negroland
by Margo Jefferson
Pantheon Books (e-book)

They were considered upper-class Negroes and upper-middle-class Americans, her mother told her as a child, but "most people would like to consider us Just More Negroes". Margo Jefferson, a cultural critic born in 1947 to a doctor and his socialite wife, tells of life growing up in Chicago's "Negroland", home to America's coloured aristocracy. She and other black elites learned they were not to reveal their failings for "even the least of them would be turned against the race": the individual stood for the collective among a people who thought of themselves - with their learning, dress, manners - as a Third Race, "poised between the masses of Negroes and all classes of Caucasians". They measured their privilege against white entitlement, aware that their pride had to be circumspect. Readers will learn about the social pressures of being part of this in-between but separate group; the historical reasons behind Jefferson's use of the word "Negro" and the influence of the Black Power movement on Jefferson's thinking about privilege. Powerful.

 

Jonathan Franzen
by Philip Weinstein
Tantor Audio (audiobook)

Philip Weinstein prefaces his book with a caveat: that Jonathan Franzen still has many novels to write and much life to live, and this is not a comprehensive biography. For his part, Franzen, perhaps the best-known American novelist of his generation, supported Weinstein's book but had no part in its writing. Despite knowing Franzen personally for more than two decades, Weinstein, whose book is read ably by Tom Zingarelli, chose to base his portrait of the writer and his four novels on Franzen's published essays. That out of the way, Weinstein ( Becoming Faulkner) proceeds to expand on "The Comedy of Rage", the book's subtitle. Rage, he observes, guides Franzen's choices of what is observed and how it is observed, and contributes to the absurdity of society "gone off the skids". We are shown his protagonist as the son of earnest and ambitious Midwesterners and Franzen as a Fulbright scholar in Berlin, a troubled husband and a writer for whom guilt and shame are ever present in his life and art.