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An American summer : love and death in Chicago
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2019
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Reviews

Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Kotlowitz is an immersion journalist of the highest order, spending years investigating complicated, anguished, and unjust predicaments. He conducts hundreds of intensely personal interviews, embedding himself in people's lives as they cope with loss and adversity. Chicago has been his primary turf, most famously in There Are No Children Here (1991), the watershed book about public-housing projects, which was designated by the New York Public Library as one of the 150 most important books of the twentieth century. Since its publication, four of the children Kotlowitz became close to have been murdered. Their deaths are part of a horrific Chicago statistic: "between 1990 and 2010, 14,033 people were killed, another roughly 60,000 wounded by gunfire."?? Kotlowitz set out to document how this tragic plague of street violence derails, burdens, and poisons lives for generations. He chose to chronicle in factual and psychological detail the carnage of one summer in Chicago, that of 2013, which, he ruefully observes, is considered one of the "tamer" seasons, during which 172 people were killed and 793 wounded. Kotlowitz's self-assigned mission was to trace the web of havoc, grief, fear, anger, and helplessness engendered by the bloodshed ravaging woefully undersupported African American and Hispanic communities. He spoke with people in their homes and workplaces, neighborhood restaurants and hangouts, courts and jails, listening with profound receptivity, respect, and sympathy, and becoming deeply involved himself. His account introduces readers to mothers mourning murdered children and devastated by shame and guilt over sons responsible for violence, and to shooting survivors left physically paralyzed or afflicted with debilitating depression. The wellspring for this consummate inquiry into chronic urban violence is Kotlowitz's work on the Emmy-winning documentary film The Interrupters (2011), which features activists with CeaseFire, a violence-prevention group, among them Eddie Bocanegra. A guiding light in these pages, Eddie has spent most of his life trying to atone for a murder he committed at age 17, when he was pulled into the maelstrom of retaliatory gang bloodshed. As Eddie served time, earned college degrees, and devoted himself to helping others, he realized that people in his neighborhood were as shattered by street combat as his war-veteran brother was by his service in Iraq, inspiring him to found Urban Warriors, which brings together military and civilian PTSD sufferers to help each other heal. Kotlowitz writes with masterful economy and concreteness, and from his meticulous narrative springs a rich spectrum of emotions like light reflecting off high-rise windows. In addition to confiding conversations, Kotlowitz was also granted access to journals and letters, including the extraordinarily noble correspondence between an incarcerated killer and the mother of his victim. Each individual Kotlowitz so intimately profiles captures one's heart. There is young Thomas, whose best friend, Shakaki, was killed while they talked on a front porch; and there is Anita, the devoted social worker who gives her all to help Thomas overcome his despair. Another unforgettable chapter portrays a man who finally gets out of prison and joyfully reunites with his son, who soon after is fatally shot in a case of mistaken identity. Kotlowitz recounts stories of people who are threatened or killed for going to the police or testifying in court, vanquishing the myth that people in high-crime neighborhoods don't cooperate with the authorities because of some sort of code of loyalty. Unjustified shootings by police further banish trust and hope. Kotlowitz's hard-hitting and powerfully clarifying dispatches bring into the light people who love their families and friends and who work hard to take care of others, yet who are undermined, betrayed, and brutalized by violence, racism, poverty, and an unconscionable lack of understanding, caring, resources, and social and political will. Kotlowitz writes, "It's my hope that these stories will help upend what we think we know." It is our hope that this book will be widely read and discussed. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews

What does it do to the very souls of Chicago residents that over the past two decades, 14,033 people have been killed in the city and another 60,000 or so wounded by gunfire? To find out, Kotlowitz focuses on one summer, capturing the whole through portraits: a man struggling with having killed a rival gang member years ago, for instance, and a social worker whose favorite teenager won't give testimony in the killing of his best friend. From a Peabody, George Polk, Helen B. Bernstein, and Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award winner whose There Are No Children Here was called one of the 150 most important books of the 20th century by the New York Public Library.

Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Library Journal Reviews

Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here) examines the seemingly endless violence that continues to touch those living in Chicago's neediest neighborhoods, interviewing loved ones, bystanders, advocates, victims, and perpetrators alike to make sense of an increasingly dire and complicated situation. Recorded over the course of a three-month period during the summer of 2013 when 172 people were killed and 793 were wounded by gunfire, Kotlowitz paints an intimate portrait of life in the city, never diminishing the fear and anxiety that runs through each account. Kotlowitz treats each of his sources with dignity and grace, shedding light on the influence of loss, poverty, privilege, and lack of opportunity on gun violence and gang culture. VERDICT Kotlowitz weaves a message of survival and remembrance that encourages readers to take a hard look at violence and justice in America. A powerful selection for anyone interested in social policy, gun violence, and social justice.—Gricel Dominguez, Florida International Univ. Lib., Miami

Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Journalist Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here) examines the epidemic of violent crime in Chicago through the events of the summer of 2013, narrating the stories of victims and their families, social workers, and perpetrators. A high school student and former gang member's one-night spree of violence threatens to run his entire future off-course. A mother finds the strength to forgive her son's killer, arguing on his behalf in court. A teen haunted by a friend's death at a birthday party watches helplessly as another friend is gunned down. A man spends a "day of atonement" each year on the anniversary of the day he took a life, visiting with victims of violent crime. A witness to a teenager's death comes forward to tell the victim's mother that police officers shot her son and planted a gun at the scene. Kotlowitz has a ruminative, almost poetic sensibility, describing for example how "the acronym RIP... is everywhere... tattooed on people's bodies... scrawled on the sides of buildings. Embossed on T-shirts and jackets. It's as if these communities are piecing together the equivalent of a war memorial." The violence is made palpable but never romanticized. Kotlowitz's approach is empathetic in this a bold, unflinching depiction of an ever-lengthening crisis. (Mar.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Author Biography

Alex Kotlowitz is the author of the national bestseller There Are No Children Here, which the New York Public Library selected as one of the 150 most important books of the twentieth century. His second book, The Other Side of the River, was awarded the Heartland Prize for Non-Fiction. For his documentary film, The Interrupters, he received an Emmy and a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary. Kotlowitz’s work, which has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and on public radio’s This American Life, has been honored with two Peabody awards, two duPont-Columbia University awards, and a George Polk Award. He is a writer in residence at Northwestern University. Kotlowitz lives with his wife, Maria Woltjen, and their two children, Mattie and Lucas, just outside of Chicago. - (Random House, Inc.)

Annotations

Examines the humanity and brutality of Chicago's most turbulent neighborhoods through a series of intimate profiles that illuminate the firsthand realities of gun violence in contemporary America. - (Baker & Taylor)

The award-winning author of There Are No Children Here examines the humanity and brutality of Chicago's most turbulent neighborhoods through a series of deeply intimate profiles that illuminate the firsthand realities of gun violence in today's America. - (Baker & Taylor)

From the bestselling author of There Are No Children Here, a richly textured, heartrending portrait of love and death in Chicago's most turbulent neighborhoods.

The numbers are staggering: over the past twenty years in Chicago, 14,033 people have been killed and another roughly 60,000 wounded by gunfire. What does that do to the spirit of individuals and community? Drawing on his decades of experience, Alex Kotlowitz set out to chronicle one summer in the city, writing about individuals who have emerged from the violence and whose stories capture the capacity--and the breaking point--of the human heart and soul. The result is a spellbinding collection of deeply intimate profiles that upend what we think we know about gun violence in America. Among others, we meet a man who as a teenager killed a rival gang member and twenty years later is still trying to come to terms with what he's done; a devoted school social worker struggling with her favorite student, who refuses to give evidence in the shooting death of his best friend; the witness to a wrongful police shooting who can't shake what he has seen; and an aging former gang leader who builds a place of refuge for himself and his friends.
     Applying the close-up, empathic reporting that made There Are No Children Here a modern classic, Kotlowitz offers a piercingly honest portrait of a city in turmoil. These sketches of those left standing will get into your bones. This one summer will stay with you. - (Random House, Inc.)

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