Review: The Water is Wide

The Water is Wide
Pat Conroy

#readingisresistance

Title: The Water is Wide
Author: Pat Conroy
Published: 1987
ISBN-10: 0-553-26893-7
Publisher: Bantam Books

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

The people on the island are black.  And, my God, the hopelessness of teaching in a black school cut off from society by water, is an agony few people have experienced.  (p. 234)

The Water is Wide came to me in an exchange with one of my nieces.  We’ve started sending each other books we’ve read and want the other one to enjoy.  “He’s kinda big deal around here [in Charleston, SC].”  I had no idea.

If the only book Conroy ever wrote was The Water is Wide, he’d be a big deal to me.  Because The Water is Wide resonates as though it was written last year, not in 1972 about experiences Conroy had teaching black students on an island separated from the rest of the world by a tidal river.

1969’s young teacher could be any teacher today.  Passionate about changing his students’ outlook, teaching them to use their minds for more than just remembering the alphabet and the multiplication tables.

What he encounters is heart breaking.  A black community with nothing, literally.  A two-room schoolhouse filled with children K-12 who cannot read, do not know their alphabet, much less they are American citizens and their island is part of a country called USA.  These children, and their parents, live a hardscrabble existence with no plumbing, no telephones, no books, and no hope.

It sounds like so many students in our contemporary era.  Inner city kids who get passed on without learning anything on the way.  Urban kids, of all races, with problems too large to be handled by a school bureaucracy still dominated by men.

I’ve seen first hand the poverty which keeps our children from getting any kind of education aside from survival.  I’ve also seen the well-meaning white liberals who do the wrong thing because all their knowledge about kids like the ones in Conroy’s book is theoretical.  On the other hand, I’ve seen what happens when no one wants to be bothered, only paying attention to the star athletes nurtured to get a scholarship at a big college and then go pro.

Conroy’s story is so familiar.  He writes with accuracy about the stupidity of bureaucracy, the banal finality of racism, and the incredibly foolish ways willing students and passionate teachers are ignored.

There are many fascinating stories about how Conroy connected with his students, and their families.  The reader goes on field trips off the island with them, flabbergasted at the things one takes for granted as common decency and sense.  A little boy peeing in the middle of a square raises an eyebrow, until one realizes that on the island everyone pees where they are when they need.  Their propriety is different.

Betsy DeVos would be horrified at the way these children behave.  Horrified, and quick to throw some racist shade disguised in politically correct verbiage about school vouchers, charter schools and school choice.  Completely missing the point.

35 years after this book was published, there’s just as much to be angry at, and baffled by.  In 2017 we should know better, we should do better.  Apparently, “we” don’t know and don’t care.  Two days in to the new administration and it’s clear there’s a lot to resist coming our way.  Pat Conroy’s book, The Water is Wide, is a reminder of just how bad it was, and still is, and just how much farther we have to go to reach an educated critical mass who can think their way through the many complex problems facing the world.  Education may be the key, but people like Betsy DeVos are the lock.

For the Yamacraw children I can say little.  I don’t think I changed the quality of their lives significantly or altered the inexorable fact they were imprisoned by the very circumstances of their birth.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

 

 

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What’s Auntie Reading Now: The Beautiful Struggle

What’s Auntie reading now?
The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates review

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

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Review: Between the World and Me

Between Me and the World
Ta-Nehisi Coates

#readingisresistance

Title: Between the World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0-8129-9354-7
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Hate gives identity.  (p. 60)

I rarely say this about any writer I read.  Clearly, I enjoy many authors and have learned quite a bit from reading.  But I rarely say I think their work is important to anyone but me.   Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work is important, and it should be read by everyone.

Written in the form of a letter to his son, Coates explains what it means to be a black male in America.  The fragility of a black man’s body, based on the need to know how to navigate the physical world without incurring the wrath of anybody along the way.

It was hard to for me to imagine how fraught life could be for someone like Ta-Nehisi Coates.  How could I?  My experiences growing up white in mostly safe neighborhoods where I could concentrate on enriching my life would never have prepared me for understanding what it’s like to be black, and male, in America.

To yell ‘black-on-black crime’ is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.  (p. 111)

There’s a lot to think about here, and Coates does it so elegantly and eloquently.  Between the World and Me changed my understanding .  Having to explain to his son what to it’s like to grow up black and male in America, to explain why his parents are hard on him, or why their reactions often seem overly harsh, is to be uncommonly self-aware.

Never have I read such a powerful work.  Never.  His description of navigating his Baltimore neighborhood was rife with literal boundaries and secret codes, any violation of which could get him beat up.  Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to make sense of the senseless.   While explaining to his son, it becomes clear that there is a sort of sense in the chaos, but only to those who are so invested in making sure the “other” oppressed.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work is important, his words are important.  They’re important because they point to the nonsensical and say, “How can this make sense?”

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

 

 

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What’s Auntie Reading Now: The Water is Wide

The Water is Wide
by Pat Conroy

#ReadingIsResistance

A great, sad story about a white teacher and his year teaching the black children on Yamacraw Island off the coast of South Carolina in the 1960s.

One of my nieces and I have begun a book exchange by sending each other books we have enjoyed.  This is her first gift to me and, she explained, “[Pat Conroy’s] kinda big deal around here [Charleston].”  It’s one of my books for January’s Social Consciousness theme for a year of #ReadingIsResistance.  Full review here.

#ReadingIsResistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

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