By Nathaniel Philbrick, read by Philbrick. Penguin Random House Audio, 9 1/2 hours, $ 22.50.
Many Rhode Islanders are familiar with George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Touro Synagogue – one in which he promises that the US government “will give no sanction to bigotry, no assistance to persecution.”
Far less familiar, however, are the circumstances in which he wrote the letter, still read annually in the synagogue. It wasn’t written as part of a correspondence between Rhode Island and a distant capital, but in the wake of Washington’s recent visit to Newport – as part of an unusual presidential charm offensive.
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America was divided in the late 1780s and early 1790s between supporters of the new Constitution, which increased the power of the central government, and those who preferred the looser provision of the Articles of Confederation which had it. preceded. Washington intended, by the power of his presence, to bring them together.
He therefore traveled both in New England and in the Southern States. Over two centuries later, Philbrick – a National Book Award-winning Brown graduate who wrote the best-selling “Heart of the Sea,” as well as three previous books on Washington – followed in his footsteps, accompanied by his wife, Melissa, and dog, Dora. (The title of the book is a tribute to “Travels With Charley,” John Steinbeck’s 1962 book about his “Finding America” on the road with his poodle.)
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Philbrick’s book is as much about race and slavery as it is about the idea of national unity. So when Washington’s – and Philbrick’s – travels bring them to Newport, the writer is careful to describe the city as “the seat of the American slave trade.” He notes that 60% of American slave trips originated from Rhode Island and that everyone in the state was involved in one way or another in the slave trade – even Moses Brown, the merchant’s abolitionist brother. of slaves John.
It turns out that Moses Brown funded Slater Mill, where the American Industrial Revolution began. And the spinning mill depended on a supply of cotton from the South, picked by slaves, and produced coarse fabrics that were made into slave clothing.
Philbrick also notes that while Washington freed his slaves in his will, he did not do so during his lifetime, and he actually expended considerable energy towards the end of his life to find a runaway slave who had been the property of his wife during his first marriage.
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But Washington also, while still president, enacted a bill banning American ships from participating in the slave trade – despite protests from the South that the law was unconstitutional, given the 20-year protection. of slavery agreed in the compromises which resulted in the adoption of the Constitution. Philbrick attributes Washington’s decision in part to his meeting and listening to Moses Brown.
Such contradictions explain why Philbrick does not judge Washington’s efforts harshly. The good people of just a few decades ago, he says, will inevitably run out if they are measured by today’s standards instead of their own complex times, in which they did their best.
There’s a lot more here, including a surprising appearance from Buddy Cianci. Philbrick reports that in the 1930s his father saw John Brown’s chariot – in which the merchant had transported Washington on the President’s 1790 trip to Providence – in a shed, or garage, on Power Street. He notes that this shed, later turned into an apartment, was where Cianci assaulted Bristol entrepreneur Raymond DeLeo decades later, whom he suspected of having an affair with his wife.
Sadly, Philbrick is hiding a key detail, claiming that Cianci went to jail for the offense. In fact, his sentence for this crime was suspended and he was not imprisoned, although he had to leave his post; he then went to federal prison after a separate racketeering conviction.
But it’s a rare flaw in an admirable look that places a two-century-old story in a modern context. And Philbrick is a serious, sometimes amused reader of his own work.
By Sandra Cisneros, translated by Liliana Valenzuela, read by Cisneros, Sofia Leal De La Rosa and Carlotta Brentan. Penguin Random House Audio, 3:15 a.m. $ 15.
This short story – 1 hour and a half in English, then in Spanish – tells a beautiful hazy story of memory and connection.
Corina, a Latina from Chicago, goes to Paris to be a writer, but spends most of her time there trying to raise funds to stay a little longer. Yet she manages to befriend Paola, from Italy, and Martita, from Argentina, who share both her poverty and her pleasure.
After returning to America, they stay in touch for a while, but life creeps in. Years later, Corina finds old letters from her friends, which evoke memories that are both sweet and painful.
That’s all we can say about it. But in the hands of Cisneros, the masterful author of books such as “The House on Mango Street” and “A House of My Own”, that is enough.
Read primarily by Cisneros, in his inimitable and ageless voice, the book is a beautiful testament to the lasting power of friendships forged in youth.
By Jerry Spinelli, read by Kirby Heyborne. Listening library, 5 hours, $ 12.99.
Robbie “Worm” Tarnauer is one week away from graduating from eighth grade. And in the small town of Amber Springs, Pennsylvania, that means today is a special day.
On Dead Wednesday, every eighth grade student receives a black t-shirt and a card with the name and photo of a child who recently died from something that could have been avoided – drugs, for example, or a car accident. car.
Then teachers, parents and townspeople pretend that the youngster in front of them is not there. It’s supposed to make them understand what it would be like if they weren’t really alive anymore. But it’s also a license to misbehave, which Worm, shy and pimply, and the rest of the kids were eagerly awaiting.
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What he has not planned at all is that the girl on his card will introduce herself and start talking to him …
Spinelli, the author of books such as Newbery Medal winner “Stargirl” and “Maniac Magee,” didn’t just come up with a fascinating idea (I wonder: could a dead Wednesday really work to make kids safer to try) but a wonderful, life-affirming performance.
Heyborne, one of the best narrators around, gives a low-key reading that rightly lets Spinelli’s writing take center stage.
By Scott Meyer, read by Elizabeth Evans. Audible Original, 10 hours, included with Audible Plus subscription, $ 7.95 per month.
In a future where humans have spread across the solar system, Brangelina Baird is a notorious alleged thief – “suspected” because she has never been charged, let alone convicted.
Now, she uses her skills as a spy on probation for the Toolbox, a shadow agency that sends her on a mission from planet to planet. But after one of them, her master tells her that she has been infected with a virus that will kill her in seven days, unless the scientists at the Toolbox can find a cure for her.
As the agency continues to send her on a mission that she believes can lead to this cure, keeping her in stasis between each ingenious triumph, Baird comes to suspect that things are not what they appear to be. But who – if anyone – can she trust?
Meyer, author of the Magic 2.0 series, keeps the action moving and makes Baird a smart, ironic character worth spending time with. And Evans, a veteran audiobook narrator, reads with panache and a pinch of appropriate accents.
Alan Rosenberg is a retired editor of the Journal. Contact him at [email protected]