cover image The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice

The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice

Wendell Berry. Shoemaker, $24 trade paper (528p) ISBN 979-8-9856798-0-9

In this rambling treatise, agrarian advocate Berry (The Unsettling of America) muses on race and patriotism, remembers his WWII-era Kentucky childhood, and ponders the future of a country fixated on industrialization and mobility. Contending that small family farms are healthier for fragile rural ecosystems and help foster “neighborliness” among the Black and white families who tend them, Berry is sharply critical of urban liberals and conservatives who devalue America’s natural spaces and the people who live there. The book works best when Berry ponders lessons he’s learned from Black authors and acquaintances including the late novelist Ernest J. Gaines (A Gathering of Old Men), with whom he shared a friendship of 61 years. Unfortunately, Berry’s rose-colored remembrances of childhood friendships with Black adults don’t fully reckon with the era’s well-documented episodes of racial violence, and his argument that debates over the removal of Confederate monuments don’t take into consideration the differences among Southern generals, “some of whom acted in good faith to heal the wound that afflicted—and still afflicts—this nation,” fails to acknowledge that white supremacist organizations erected many of those monuments. The result is an occasionally eloquent but often disappointing muddle through some of America’s sharpest divides. (Oct.)