Please summarize Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Amazing Grace, Jonathan Kozol writes about the appalling living conditions and life circumstances of people who are trapped in the South Bronx in New York. He is primarily a storyteller, and he tells the stories of several children and their parents in this book. Kozol is also a political partisan, and he intersperses each of these accounts with condemning commentary against Republicans generally and conservatives specifically. He does this by citing the actions of Republican politicians, such as Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, as well as quoting strategic lines from politicians who he claims have caused these problems--or at least caused them to get worse.

Kozol follows David, a young man who is forced to grow up much too early because he has to help take care of his mother when she is sick. David is a young man who seems to have a deep faith, but the most significant aspect Kozol features is David's belief that all the problems of the poor have been caused by and worsened by the rich.

This novel takes us into an overcrowded hospital emergency room where David's mother once again has to wait for a bed to be free before she is treated. This time she has to wait four days on a stretcher in a hospital corridor before she is treated. She needs x-rays but has to wait two days to get them, and David tells the rest of the story:

When they finally found a room for her, she suddenly began to shiver and her hands were cold. They didn't have no blankets. They ran out. I took a blanket to her today. No curtains. So they put a sheet over the window.

They said the diagnosis was pneumonia and a blood clot in her lungs. She's on oxygen and an IV. It's six days since she went in.

Her eventual diagnosis is pneumonia, and she does not qualify for disability because she is not sick enough.

These same kinds of stories--of neglect, heard-heartedness, poverty, despair, hopelessness, and addiction--are repeated on street corners, in classrooms, in neighborhoods, and in homes throughout these impoverished and primarily black ghetto neighborhoods.  

This is not a work of fiction but a collection of stories, but they are moving and poignant. This relentless string of atrocities and horrific circumstances continues throughout the entire book. The only relief, if it can be called that, is Kozol's commentary and accusations interspersed between the stories. 

Some people, says the Times, wonder why the city is planning "to cut services, which would hurt the...poorest residents," while once again planning to cut taxes, "which would help the city's richest....." In a strong editorial, it calls the threatened cancellation of these services "intolerable" and "inhumane."

A deputy mayor, however, says that these reductions in municipal expenditures will be "a victory for everybody," and, notes the Times, on Wall Street the reaction to the mayor's plans is "generally favorable."

As you can see, the stories in this book depict the problems of poverty in the South Bronx, but it is the commentary which makes a strong political statement about who is to blame for these problems, or at least for making them worse. Kozol is not shy about naming specific people in addition to condemning Republicans and especially conservatives as heartless and cruel. Though the stories he tells are impactful and undoubtedly true, Kozol clearly has an agenda; because he does, the book is at times somewhat one-sided in its condemnations of the rich. The truth is that many factors contribute to the problems. 

 

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