Picks and Pans Review: Amazing Grace
Picture children in a slum where the squalor in their homes is worse than the streets; where prostitution is rampant, thievery commonplace and murder a daily occurrence. Crack-cocaine and heroin are sold in corner markets, and hollow-eyed men and women wander about aimlessly, their bodies riddled with disease.
This is Mott Haven, in New York City's South Bronx, the outback of the nation's poorest congressional district and the setting of Jonathan Kozol's disturbing expose of poverty in this country. Kozol whose first book, Death at an Early Age, won a National Book Award in 1967, has been writing about inner-city neighborhoods all his life, and the stories captured in Amazing Grace are told in the simplest terms—by children who have seen their parents die of AIDS, by mothers who complain about teenagers bagging dope and loading guns on tenement fire escapes, by clergy who teach the poor to fight injustice and by police who are afraid to answer 911 calls.
Kozol may be disparaged as a liberal—especially these days when the poor are blamed for being poor—but his portrait of life in Mott Haven is gentle and passionate. Rats may chew through apartment walls here, but children still say their prayers at night. Many people will not want to look at his picture of America, but Amazing Grace dares to be recognized. "I used to think the problem was that people just didn't realize how poor people live in this country," Kozol has said. "Now I understand that they do know and still don't do anything about it." (Crown, $23)