Reviews for Brown : The Last Discovery of America


Kirkus Reviews 2002 February #2
A poetic, often contrarian meditation on race in modern America.Borrowing from writer/philosopher William Gass, who deconstructed the meanings of a less socially charged color in On Being Blue, PBS commentator and essayist Rodriguez (Days of Obligation, 1992, etc.) ponders the meaning of Mexicanness, Hispanitude, mestizaje, and all the other forms of being brown in the US. "I write about race in America," he begins, "in hopes of undermining the notion of race in America." With many asides on the origins of the notion that Hispanics are an ethnic minority-a recent idea, he suggests, adopted from the African-American struggle for civil rights-Rodriguez offers a few balloon-bursting observations on the tensions that have marked recent politics; the black-white argument, he writes, "is like listening to a bad marriage through a thin partition, a civil war replete with violence, recrimination, mimicry, slamming doors." That's not to say that those tensions are not real, and Rodriguez allows that plenty of doors have been slammed in his face as a brown, gay person. Plenty of others have been thrown open, though, affording him a privileged (and deserved) position as cultural commentator that he gratefully acknowledges. Without descending into sloganeering or us-versus-them rhetoric, Rodriguez argues for an inclusive "white freedom" accorded to all citizens; his democratic spirit and the absence of special pleading are both refreshing. In their erudition and irony, these writings recall the essays of the late Mexican poet Octavio Paz, who could easily have written the closing lines: "Truly, one way to appreciate the beauty of the world is to choose one color and to notice its recurrence in rooms, within landscapes. And upon bookshelves."Elegant, controversial, and altogether memorable. Copyright Kirkus 2002 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved

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Library Journal Reviews 2001 December #1
For Rodriguez, the "browning" of America reveals a mixing of the races; hence, the "erotic" of the title. This completes a trilogy on U.S. public life begun with Hunger of Memory and Days of Obligation. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Library Journal Reviews 2002 May #1
In a fluid, abstract analysis that reads like an extended essay with rich but often disconnected allusions and anecdotes, Rodriguez (Hunger of Memory), who appears regularly as an essayist on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, explores the impact of Hispanics on U.S. culture. Rodriguez argues forcefully that Hispanics are becoming Americanized as much as America is becoming Latinized; in other words, America should not describe itself as black and white but brown. There is no single narrative or sustained argument here, but Rodriguez challenges the black-white construction of race in interesting and compelling ways. For example, he reminds readers that "black" Americans are as "brown" or blended in their ancestry as Hispanic Americans and that many Hispanic Americans are logically "white" in terms of their European descent. The author's personal identification as gay-Catholic-Indian is at the core of his focus on the fragmentation of racial and ethnic identity. Recommended for academic and public collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/01.] Paula R. Dempsey, DePaul Univ. Lib., IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2002 March #2
"I write about race in hope of undermining the notion of race in America," notes Rodriguez (Hunger of Memory) in this provocative and challenging meditation on identity, racial and otherwise, in American culture. Relishing the contradictions of his own life as a "queer Catholic Indian Spaniard at home in a temperate Chinese city in a fading blond state in a post-Protestant nation," Rodriguez uses the color "brown" as a metaphor for in-between states of being ("brown bleeds through the straight line unstaunchable the line separating black from white") and as a symbol of the nonlinear and the unexpected: "all paradox is brown." Beautifully written in a literary style accessible and lyrical, this book draws upon a far-reaching range of cultural figures and artifacts e.g., Milton, James Baldwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Lauren advertisements, Leontyne Price in the opera Cleopatra, Edith Sitwell, Showboat, Carlos Fuentes, Francis Parkman's Oregon Trail to make his case that our historical and contemporary conceptualization of race is rudimentary and psychologically and culturally damaging. He isn't afraid to challenge recent left orthodoxy, finding, for example, that he "trusted white literature, because I was able to attribute universality to white literature, because it did not seem to be written for me." This book is written for anyone looking for a way out of limiting self-conceptions. (Apr. 1) Forecast: While critic Ed Morales's Living in Spanglish (Forecasts, Feb. 11) also uses "brown" as a cultural category that questions binaries, Morales's approach is more journalistic and pop cultural, while Rodriguez's is more meditative and literary and Rodriguez is much more famous, via work for Harper's, the Los Angeles Times and PBS's Newshour. This book will get an enormous push on public radio outlets, which should help make it one of the season's major books on race. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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