The Other Side of the River

Alex Kotlowitz, Author
Alex Kotlowitz, Author Nan A. Talese $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-47720-8
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
In southwestern Michigan, the towns of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor face each other across the St. Joseph River. The first is postcard picturesque and white; the second is a black ghetto with a reputation as dangerous. In May 1991, the body of a black teenage boy, Eric McGinnis of Benton Harbor, was found floating in the river after he had spent the evening in St. Joseph. Was it an accidental death? A murder? Had he been fleeing from a crime scene? Had he been dancing with a white girl at a local club? Was a black gang involved? Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here) spent some five years examining the death as well as the communities on both sides of the river, and the result is a disturbing, compulsively involving human and sociological study. It is an informal, almost chatty book seemingly as disorganized and as free-ranging as gossip itself. It detours to cover an earlier shooting of a black teenager by a white policeman in Benton Harbor, a jailhouse hanging in the 1930s that may have been a lynching, and a political squabble that ousted a controversial black school principal, and looks into histories of the local newspaper and of the river itself. The author also covers dating practices in both communities, including the rebellious ""wiggers,"" white high-school girls who go out with blacks. There are interviews with segments of both communities that range from judges to teachers to police officers to drifters to kids looking for something to do on a Friday night. Kotlowitz tries to solve the mystery of the body in the river and indeed comes up with a number of possible solutions, some more probable than others. More important, he presents a riveting portrait of a racially troubled America in the 1990s. (Jan.)
MORE BOOKS YOU'D LIKE
X