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Reviews Full-Length Reviews Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels by Adam Hochschüd Syracuse University Press, 1997 290 pages, cloth $29.95 (1977); paper $19.95 (1999) Some nonfiction writers create memoirs that escort readers on intimatejourneys through personal Uves. Adam Hochschüd did this with his stunning Half the Way Home:A Memoir ofFather and Son. Others speciaUze in travel narratives , historical analysis, or investigative accounts about social or poUtical issues. Hochschüd accompUshed aU this, too, in his widely acclaimed books The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin; The Mirror at Midnight:A South AfricanJourney; and King Leopold's Ghost:A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (winner of the Gelber prize). Hochschüd, co-founder of Mother Jones magazine, also knows his journaUsm. Now, in Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels, his coUection that won the prestigious PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay, readers wfll find aU these elements in one beautifuUy written and fascinating book. In his title essay, "Finding the Trapdoor," Hochschild reveals that at the beginning ofhis career he (unsuccessfuUy) tried to be a novelist. He believed noveUsts were the apex of the profession. Later, however, he reaUzed nonfiction is not a lesser art. "I am beginning to see there are aU sorts of other ways out of the darkened house, and each of them lets your voice out: dormer windows, . . . skyUghts, . . . chimneys, . . . the secret trapdoor hidden under the rug."And this is Hochschüd's great gift: He reveals the world through many apertures. In this coUection (divided into three sections that focus on "people," "place," "books"), Hochschüd guides his readers onjourneys that explore terrains as disparate as the heart of the Amazon and the human heart. With grace, inteUect, and a clear moral center, he writes of 210 Book Reviews211 Ukely and unlikely heroes, the dark places of the soul as weU as the endurance of the human spirit. His is a multi-layered voice and vision. Hochschüd confronts both himself and his readers with some of the toughest moral dflemmas in this century—aU the more urgent because they are real, not fiction. For example, "[h]ow does a torture victim behave when he has to sit down in the same room with his former torturers today, as part of the same government? How does a group ofAmazon Indians . . . maintain its traditional culture amid the temptations of modern consumerism?" How does a middle-class Belgian boy, who runs away from home to join the Gypsies, survive in Nazi-occupied France? Or how, in apartheid-era South Africa, does a white aristocrat become editor ofan antiapartheid newspaper? In a fascinating essay, "From Hitier to Human Rights," we meet a former member of the white supremacist group Aryan Nations who turns into a champion for human rights. Again, the moral question: "Can a former white racist leader find redemption?" As we foUow Hochschüd through these trapdoors searching for answers, we learn none come easüy Yet the search, the struggle, is the very point of the trip. Perhaps Hochschüd is such an exceptionally interesting writer because of his own moral journey. On the one hand, he was raised in a wealthy and privileged East Coast famüy After graduating from coUege, however, he moved to San Francisco and chose a much more modest path than his parents , Uving in a smaU apartment he furnished with goods bought at the Salvation Army. Yet unlike some during the turbulent sixties, Hochschüd rebeUed gracefuUy: His writing is his own personal, profound revolution. To this day, he remains an unabashed liberal championing, through his writing, human rights for the poor, the outcast, the underdog, the oppressed. He knows both worlds—privüeged and impoverished—and, in his essays, they play off each other. For example, he can lead us through the exclusive, yet emotionaUy stifling, Pomfret School that he attended as a boy, where aU students were white and male. He juxtaposes this essay with one entitled "Summer of Violence," where Hochschüd joined volunteers to travel to Mississippi as civil-rights workers in 1964. Despite his background, his commitment to civü rights is utterly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1544-1733
Print ISSN
1522-3868
Pages
pp. 210-212
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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