Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Completed: Arc of Justice

Dear Jenny,

Okay. Time to churn these puppies out -- I've only got 14 days left!  I don't know why I have gotten so bogged down this year talking about my books -- I just feel like I have so much to tell you. This is my most recently finished book. I actually wrote a preview for it in October. Gonna burn through it here.

This book tells the true story of a black doctor (Ossian Sweet) and his family who moved to a white neighborhood in Detroit in 1925. Predictably, the neighbors were not happy and mobbed the house. Once the mob started throwing stones, the family and friends inside the house fired some shots into the crowd, killing someone on the street.

So, of course, everyone in the house was arrested and detained in jail for many months (that's a total of 11 people. For, you know, one shot.) In the end, everyone was (miraculously) acquitted. Take note: That was a short sentence I just wrote there, but the jail time and the prolonged trial did not pass nearly that quickly.

While much of this book made me feel like "nothing has changed in this world!" the fact that the innocent black people were found innocent (whoa!) actually made me think, "Aw, crap... we're actually going backwards." Sigh.

It's a good story well told, but the exhaustively reported research was sometimes a bit too much. Beyond the key story (in which eight full pages were devoted to jury selection), the author went into great detail describing the historic background of the main characters, their extended families, and, delving even deeper, the history of race relations in our country for a couple of hundred pages. It's valid reporting, but not key to the story and I did find myself slogging through it.

Of course, I will admit some reader bias there... the ground covered was not new to me. But... I have to think that anyone who would pick this book up in the first place would know at least a bit about the history of race relations in our country. If not, I guess it's a good thing to have this in-depth primer.

Okay. Now I'm just going to fire off some random comments/observations about this book and be done with it. Cause... I have 6 more to do in the next two weeks.

1. The hospital where Dr. Sweet worked was in the news earlier this year because it went up for auction with a starting bid of $3,800. I actually said to Bill at the time, "Let's buy this!" cause it's amazing. It sold for $198k, but has since been recovered by the Detroit Medical Society.

2. The Sweets' house is still standing in Detroit (no mean feat in a city where 40,000 buildings were recommended to be torn down earlier this year). It's a historical site, so it will probably remain for awhile, but it's still a private residence and, of course, not in a great neighborhood. The house itself looks to be in decent condition (check it out here) but... I did a little Google Wandering and found this one directly across the street. Traveling down that street via Google finds more and more blight. Oh, Detroit.

3. In an effort to speed my "reading" along, I also listened to the aBook. It was well narrated except that the narrator kept pronouncing the NAACP as "N-A-A-C-P" (vs. "N-double-A-C-P") and that was distracting. It's a minor nit, but it comes up a lot in this book and just sounded so odd. Other than that, her reading was spot on and engrossing, which was helpful when I got distracted during the really deep delving into history.

Aaand... done. I am doing this book a disservice, because this story is an important one ("The most famous civil rights trial you never heard of," according to the New York Times) and this book tells it well, but... I gotta get sh*t done around here. I do think that this book will stick with me, though... I finished it a few weeks ago and still find myself thinking about it.

How's your list going?


1 comment:

  1. Yeah, this would be a hard year to read this book. I mean, this world! Always reminding us of how shitty we are to each other. uhhhhh....this type of narrative history can be really well done, or it can feel like too much detail about the wrong thing in the wrong places.

    That NAACP thing is just *bizarre*, I literally never heard anyone say it any other way than "N-double A-CP."

    I'm going to finish Jacob de Zoet, hopefully tonight or tomorrow morning. Then, on to getting in the rest of Postwar. I'm hoping I can do it.