Edward Ball, a onetime journalist and author of the award-winning Slaves in the Family, returns to his family’s history and pieces together the shameful story of a racist great-great-grandfather who took part in the re-establishment of white supremacy in New Orleans after the Civil War. Life of a Klansman provides a glimpse into the foot soldier ranks that populated early racist movements, and it carries particular resonance today as our country continues to confront racist violence and ideology. Indeed, as Ball calculates in his prologue, half of all white Americans living today have a family link to a Klansman. But most don’t realize it. What Ball has done powerfully in his book is claim this difficult past, show it can be done, reckon publicly with this legacy of white supremacy, and try to learn from it.
A path-breaking astrophysicist, Seager “spent my life searching for lights in the dark.” Then her husband died and she was plunged into a new kind of darkness, one that left her feeling like a rogue planet: adrift in the universe with no sun to orbit. As that metaphor conveys, Seager was centered by more than loss, and in this bracingly honest memoir, she puts her personal catastrophe in the largest possible context, intertwining her struggle to adjust to grief and raise her two young sons alone with her ongoing search for life in the cosmos. The challenges are formidable, often turning the rational scientist into a mess of tears and panic. But sustained by her passion for the stars (“the places where science and magic meet”) and helped by her children and the Widows of Concord (a group of bereaved women who support each other with regular get-togethers, practical advice, and the exchange of recipes, clothes, and dating tips), Seager slowly comes to terms with the pain, anger, and confusion of her new role, discovering truths she articulates with often heartbreaking lucidity: “when you lose someone,” she says,” you don’t lose them all at once, and the dying doesn’t stop with their death. You lose them a thousand times in a thousand ways. You say a thousand goodbyes.”
Moore was five when her native Liberia erupted in civil war, prompting her family to flee to Sierra Leone and, later the U.S. This was also the year her mother was away, studying at Columbia on a Fulbright. In language as powerful as her story, the author of She Would Be King channels these fraught experiences through both her child and adult sensibilities, delivering a narrative of modern displacement and racism that’s richly inflected with the magical lyricism of a griot’s tale. Her talent with voices is especially effective in the book’s conclusion, when she ghostwrites her mother’s story; these chapters fill in the details of her family’s miraculous escape, show us Moore’s two extraordinary parents—and their blessed marriage—in close up, and celebrate the strength of Vai women such as Moore’s paternal grandmother, who, when she “hummed… her voice formed a shield around us.”