Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fire in the Ashes - Jonathan Kozol (Audio)

One can never have enough audios, you know, so I'm always excited when I get a package 'o love from Kathy at Bermudaonion.  (Her packages are always full of audios and signed books for my Adult Literacy League auction.)  This book was in my last shipment, but I have to admit I wasn't sure if reading about poor children was going to do anything to lift my mood.  

But Kathy was passionate about this book, and assured me there was hope to be found here.  Now let's see if I can do any justice to it...

Synopsis:  Jonathan Kozol is the true definition of one person making a huge difference in the lives of those otherwise forgotten.  For his entire life, with the help of a charismatic female minister at St. Ann's Church, he has spent his time reaching out to some of the poorest families in the Bronx, listening to them and becoming their confidantes, friends, tutors and advocates.  

Over the years, he has written about these children and their circumstances...the drug and crime-ridden shelters they are forced to live in, the incompetently-staffed schools, the single parents who are busy working multiple jobs to put food on the table and can't supervise their wayward teens, the lack of resources available to these families.  Now he circles back around, sharing their fates over the last 25 years.  The ones that struggled to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles and succeeded, and the others that succumbed to constant pressure to turn to drugs and illegal activities.

Through an intimate testimony of Kozol and his downtrodden beneficiaries, it is no surprise that the author has been deemed "today's most eloquent spokesman for America's disenfranchised".    

My thoughts:  What a touching, scary, horrifying read this was.  Kozol starts off with the stories of the children who just couldn't claw their way out of ruin, no matter how much help they had.  In these stories, it was almost always the oldest child who had the biggest problems, and the problems always started in middle school.  My heart broke for their situation, for their mother or father who was raising them, and for Kozol and the other adults that gave of themselves to try to help them.  In one situation, a mother and her two children were moved to Montana, to a supportive community, and given every opportunity...good schools, a job, positive mentors.  But their past still caught up with them.  My stomach was in a perpetual cramp.

But offsetting all of this misery were the stories of hope.  The children that, once they were placed in a better school, persisted with their studies despite the fact that they were years behind their class.  Persisted through college.  The children that conquered their drug addictions.  The adults that were like a ray of sunshine everywhere they went, despite sickness, joblessness, and death in the family.  In each and every one of these success stories, however, someone took an interest to help...Kozol, the pastor, a teacher, or another caring adult.  

One thing was for certain, and that was they couldn't have done it on their own.  Our government IS FAILING THESE CHILDREN.  I don't really care who wants to blame who for not passing bills or wanting to spend the money.  If the administration cannot muster the leadership to help humanity (not just the Republicans or Democrats) understand what needs to be done, they should be shamed.  It makes me very mad.  Not one child in this country deserves this pitiful excuse for education, or lack thereof.  Anyway.   

I finished this audio with a level of respect for the author that I can barely communicate.  Loving and helping these people were his life.  He went to their parties, wrote them letters, found them sponsors for better schooling, loaned them money, and even became Godfather to one young boy.  This guy is the real deal.  

A few words about the audio production:  The narrator for this book was Keythe Farley, someone with very little experience in the audio world but appears to have made his rounds as a voice actor.  (I'm sure my son would recognize his voice from various video games.)  He did an excellent job of navigating an entire range of accents and was a pleasure to listen to.

Audiobook length:  10 hours and 56 minutes (368 pages)

5 out of 5 stars



bermudaonion said...

You totally did this magnificent book justice! I am in awe of Kozol too - if all of us had an ounce of his caring and giving spirit in us, this world would be a better place.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I can't wait to read this!

Darlene said...

Wow, this sounds like a powerful and emotional book to listen to. I hadn't heard of It before so I'll have to check it out further.

Beth F said...

Humm. I passed on this. Now I'm kind of sorry.

Anonymous said...

I read another of Kozol's books in college and remember feeling SO impressed by his goodness and his passion for advocating for these kids. You have totally convinced me to listen to this book - I'm off to download it from Audible right now.

Iliana said...

Great review, Sandy! Hadn't heard about this book but it sounds very interesting. It is heartbreaking to think that such poverty exists - in this country! It's just so sad.