Rick Bragg is a national correspondent for the New York Times. He is based in Atlanta, Georgia.
The journalist who wrote and narrates this recent work (LJ 9/15/97) has won many awards for his writing, including the Pulitzer Prize, as the listener is reminded repeatedly. Therein lies the problem with his story: it is an odd combination of braggadocio and insecurity. The work is purportedly about the author's determination to succeed so he can help his mother out of poverty; it exalts the mother and demonizes the father but is mostly about Rick Bragg. Even self-effacing remarks seem calculated to gain sympathy. But most disturbing is a contemptuous, retaliatory tone, aimed at just about any group not born poor in the South. All the striving is apparently fueled by a need to "get even with life." While Bragg has a flair as a writer, this personal take is not recommended.‘Mark Pumphrey, Polk Cty. P.L., Columbus, N.C.
"A grand memoir.... Bragg tells about the South with such power and bone-naked love...he will make you cry." --Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Part memoir, part confession, [this book] has everything to do with the South and nothing at all.... Like all good writing, it transcends the particulars of time and place." --Raleigh News & Observer "A record of a life that has been harrowing, cruel and yet triumphant, written so beautifully he makes the book a marvel." --Los Angeles Times "A deeply affecting book.... Bragg captures the rhythms of small-town life with grace and pathos." --Chicago Tribune
YA‘On Palm Sunday, 1994, a tornado ripped through a church in Piedmont, AL, killing 20 people. This is Bragg's hometown, and he began his story on the tragedy for the New York Times as follows: "This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven. This is a place where the song `Jesus Loves Me' has rocked generations to sleep, and heaven is not a concept, but a destination." It is writing of this quality that won the author his job as a national correspondent and the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. He grew up in poverty, the second of three sons of an alcoholic, abusive father and a loving mother. The early chapters give a beautiful description of warm and happy moments he enjoyed with her and his family even as she struggled to provide for them after they'd been abandoned. Teens will enjoy reading about the resourceful, talented, and lucky young man's career as he moved from local reporter to working for regional and national papers. A book for students with an interest in writing, journalism, or the South and of use for autobiography assignments.‘Patricia Noonan, Prince William Public Library, VA
"A common condition of being poor white trash," explains New York Times correspondent Bragg on learning he won a Pulitzer Prize last year, is that "you are always afraid that the good things in your life are temporary, that someone can take them away." Having won that prize for stories about others, he tells his own here in a mixture of moving anecdotes and almost masochistic self-analysis. He brings alive his childhood of Southern poverty‘his absentee father dead at 40, one brother scavenging coal for the family at nine, the other in and out of jail. Someone advised Bragg, "[T]o tell a story right you have to lean the words against each other so that they don't all fall down," and his gift for language shines through every scene of violence and deprivation. If only he would let events speak for themselves, but all too often the tone falters and Bragg takes time out to excoriate some long-gone colleague and to pass out guilt badges. What saves this uneven, jolting narrative is his love and respect for his mother, who dragged him behind her as a toddler while she picked cotton in the fields. His ambition to buy her a house was realized last year: "She never had a wedding ring, or a decent car, or even a set of furniture that matched. Or teeth that fit. But she had a home now... of her own." (Sept.)