Review: Fire in the Ashes
Jonathan Kozol has been working with inner-city children for decades. He goes into the poorest neighborhood in the country and befriends and acts as an advocate for the children there. Because he is empathetic and non-judgmental, the friendships he forms with these children and their families is lasting. In his latest book, Kozol revisits thirteen of the children he has known through the years. These children are from Mott Haven, a very poor section of the Bronx, or have been homeless and lived in shelters like the Hotel Martinique – both places breeding grounds of desperation. Every child he writes about has had a person or organization intervene on their behalf.
Years ago, I read one of Jonathan Kozol’s books and was struck by his compassion and honesty, so I was anxious to read his latest, Fire in the Ashes. Once again, he moved me with his words. I’m happy to report that many of the children who he writes about in this book have fared well. These are children who have grown up in horrible conditions and attended inferior schools and have somehow risen above it all. Of course, there are others who aren’t so successful and, as I read, I couldn’t help but wonder about those who he didn’t write about – those who had no one to help them. Kozol says:
So long as very poor black and Hispanic children continue to be locked into nearly absolute racial isolation in underserved and underfunded schools, the innovative efforts of successive mayors and their appointed chancellors to create “successful” separate and unequal education in New York will likely be in vain. That, at least, is the lesson history has taught us ever since the benighted ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson was accepted as a proper guideline for the education of our children — which, in spite of its reversal in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, is still effectively accepted and almost never questioned by those who run the New York City schools.
I have to admit that I was floored when I read that and wondered how anyone could find that acceptable. I also wondered how the school system could get away with such obvious inequities. I think the poor and homeless are ignored far too often because many people assume they’ve done something to put themselves in the situation they’re in. This book dispels that myth and puts a human face on an often voiceless part of our society.
I know I haven’t done this book justice, but trust me when I say it’s excellent. I found it compelling and emotional. Parts of the book angered me but, in the end, it gave me hope. I’m hopeful because there are people like Kozol out there fighting for change.
I listened to the audio version of Fire in the Ashes – it’s narrated by Keythe Farley and he does an outstanding job. He does an excellent job with voices and, to me, it felt as if he were the author, sitting down and telling me a story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and told everyone about it as I listened to it. The audio book is on 9 CDs and last approximately 11 hours. If you’re at all interested in social justice, this is a must read.