Book Review
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Alice Walker: 'We Will Discover Something Wonderful'

"The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers, New Poems" by Alice Walker (The New Press, 2013, $21.95)

"It is my thought that the ugliness of war, of gratuitous violence in all its forms, will cease very soon to appeal to even the most insulated human beings. It will be seen by all for what it is: a threat to our well-being, to our survival as a species, and to our happiness. The brutal murder of our common mother, while we look on like frightened children, will become an unbearable visceral suffering that we will refuse to bear. We will abandon the way of the saw, the jackhammer and the drill. Of bombs, too.

"As religions and philosophies that espouse or excuse violence reveal their true poverty of hope for humankind, there will be a great awakening, already begun, about what is of value in life.

"We will turn our madness into flowers as a way of moving completely beyond all previous and current programming of how we must toe the familiar line of submission and fear, following orders given us by miserable souls who, somehow, have managed to almost completely control us. We will discover something wonderful: that the world really does not enjoy following the dictates of sociopaths and psychopaths, those who treat the earth, our mother, as if she is wrong, and must be constantly corrected, in as sadistic and domineering a way as that of a drunken husband who kills his wife.

"The world -- the animals, including us humans -- want to be engaged in something entirely other, seeing, and delighting in, the stark wonder of where we are: This place. This gift. This paradise.

"We want to follow joy. And we shall.

"The madness, of course, for each of us, will have to be sorted out."

-- Alice Walker,

from the foreword

"Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy" (Hyperion Books, 2012, $40)

Selected and introduced by Ted Wilmer and with an introduction by Caroline Kennedy, this collection of secretly taped phone conversations from the Oval Office includes the president's 1963 conversation with two men who have a particular connection to Key West. One is pollster Lou Harris, who today lives in Key West. The other is the late Sen. George Smathers, after whom our famous beach is named.

"JFK was a voracious consumer of political information, " explains Wolmer, "whether it came from newspapers, friends or professional pollsters. Lou Harris was a favorite, dispensing quick and sometimes hard information with efficiency and topicality. Harris was four years younger than Kennedy and in his own way was also bucking the political establishment, bringing up-to-the-minute information from the American people to the salons and solons of Washington. Here's how the secret tape of the Harris call to the White House opens:

JFK: Hello.

Harris: Mr. President.

JFK: Lou, how are you?

Harris: Just fine, sir. We're going to the field with a study here and I just wondered on a number of things, what you might want in. We're going to test a lot of these pairings, like Goldwater and Rockefeller, and Romney, and I thought maybe Nixon, what do you think about that?

JFK: Um.

Harris: See where he sits.

JFK: Of course, he'll run the strongest, won't he?

Harris: I think he might. I also think he'd probably be a pretty good opponent.

JFK: Yeah ... You've kept Romney at those same figures, didn't you? I thought that you were going to change them.

Harris: No sir, to be perfectly frank about it, the Newsweek fellows got hold of them and there's nothing I can do about them. I don't think he came out that strong.

JFK: Yeah. It doesn't make any difference.

President Kennedy also enjoyed the company of Sen. George Smathers (1913-2007), a Florida Democrat who acted as a groomsman at his wedding and managed the Southeast for Kennedy's presidential campaign. Although not a supporter of JFK's civil rights agenda, Smathers and the president laughed easily together.

Smathers: That Star editorial doesn't bother you, does it?

JFK: I didn't read it fortunately.

Smathers: As I said yesterday, oh, Christ, Drew Pearson is getting ready to write a mean one on me again about some colored property my father owned.

JFK: Oh, well, we don't even think about that crap. We get so many I don't read all those.

Smathers: I know it. I think you're doing fine. I say you're strong. God damn, you're gonna carry Florida.

JFK: OK, OK, see you later.

Smathers: Bye-bye.

"Anti-Semitism and Its Opponents in Modern Poland," edited by Robert Blobaum (Cornell University Press, $23.99)

This is an overview of the anti-Semitism faced by Polish Jews in the years before the Nazi invasion. In particular, there are important, frightening insights into the reasons for Catholic hatred of Jews, which led to widespread indifference among Polish clergy and lay Catholics to the subsequent murder of Polish Jews by the Nazis.

I read this book as research for my novel-in-process, set in Germany and Poland during the Nazi years. Among the many disturbing points is that conservative Catholics hated the cosmopolitan, sophisticated city lifestyle that not only threatened their sense of what was right in human behavior but their unique role in controlling it.

Cardinal August Hlond wrote in his pastoral letter in 1936: "The Jewish problem exists and will continue to exist so long as Jews remain Jews.

-- Reviewed

by Lew Weinstein, author of "The Heretic" and

"The Pope's Conspiracy"