"By Willis Barnstone, With a Dialogue and Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa
Indiana University Press; $19.95
Re-reading this almost unbelievable story of disconnect with self is ethereal. It’s being in the moment of memory where time is in a warp yet it’s fleeting. It’s not your usual memoir, so that makes it an adventure at the start. Yet, is there anyone who at some point has not been — or at the least felt — apart, marginalized, labeled as different? That’s where the connect comes with both Barnstone — who early on was told to keep his Jewish heritage secret — and Komunyakaa — who sings of his blackness with dignity and daring. Who are you when you pass? Is it a death of self?
Death figures in this meditation on racial and ethnic identity and the idiotic concept of having to be “counted” so as to become politically, economically discounted, but from a discomfiting week of reading comes a renewed sense of urgency to make things better for our children and grandchildren. In paper, the book becomes more accessible, as it should be. I’m first in line to commend it for 2008 One Book One City. —Rita Kohn