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Titles similar to An American Summer
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.
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