Pig Eyes and Brotherhood 

This month's East Bay book news, including a controversial Ward Churchill in Berkeley, and the People's Temple remembered.

As in Adolf: He called the WTC victims "little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers" in an essay he wrote on 9/11 -- and which he expanded upon in his book On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality ($15.95), from Oakland's AK Press. Three years later, ex-Colorado University Ethnic Studies Department chair Ward Churchill is taking heat for it. Sparks fly: Fellow academics are accusing Churchill of past plagiarism and threats. Various Native American leaders claim that Churchill, who identifies himself as Cherokee, is not Native American. His bloodline "doesn't matter to us," says AK's Josh Warren-White. "We believe what Ward says." Sales of Churchill's books are skyrocketing, and three more are in the works. Addressing a sold-out San Francisco audience on March 25, Churchill elaborated on his WTC comment, saying that Eichmann was a banal technocrat serving an evil system and so were the workers in the towers. Musing about the phrase "innocent Americans," he asserted: "You can prevaricate. You can rationalize. You can justify. You can do whatever you want -- but the one thing you cannot purport to be if you are a conscious being in any sense at all in this country is innocent." Near the evening's end, he described lying in bed at night with "delightful visions ... of Madeleine Albright, Jesse Helms, and Henry Kissinger all in a nice neat little row with nooses around their necks."

Heaven knows: Pop culture sees Jim Jones as a cult leader and the deaths of more than nine hundred People's Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978 -- shortly after temple members killed US Representative Leo Ryan on his fact-finding visit -- as a massacre. Yet a new book reframes the temple as a pioneering social-justice movement. Reprinted in Dear People ($16.95) is a letter written by a member about to die in Jonestown, as the poisoned fruit-drink takes effect: "We hope that the world will someday realize the ideals of brotherhood, justice, and equality that Jim Jones has lived and died for. ... The world was not ready to let us live." So it wasn't Jones who killed his faithful followers, many of whom were East Bayites -- it was us. Or the times. Released to coincide with a play, The People's Temple, premiering at the Berkeley Rep April 15, Dear People is published jointly by Berkeley's Heyday Press and the California Historical Society, whose San Francisco museum has a People's Temple collection comprising tens of thousands of artifacts, including Jones' clerical robe and bulletproof vest. Its archivist is the book's editor, Denice Stephenson. She wishes that "rather than think first about Jim Jones, people would understand the temple as a group of individuals. It wasn't that they were blindly following someone. Every single person had a unique relationship to the church. Some loved the beautiful choir, some loved the interracial aspect. Some loved the healings or the politics." During the church's mid-'70s heyday, "if you went there with a problem -- with welfare, custody battles, anything -- they would sit you down and take you under their wing and they would help you."

Big girls do cry: "I hate myself," Berkeley's Judith Moore writes in her new memoir Fat Girl (Hudson Street, $21.95). She isn't being coy or ironic as she launches this unflinching tale of growing up teased and tormented, hungry for love and cake, and loathing her mirror image. She means it. "I am a short, squat toad ... I have pig eyes ... when I walk, my buttocks grind like the turbines I once saw move water over the top of the Grand Coulee Dam." Moore's simile-rich descriptions of big bodies -- hers, her father's -- are merciless. But that's her story. "I ask myself why so much gets left out when fat women write about being fat," she says. "The most shameful fat facts, and those facts most avoided when the fat or formerly fat write about fatness, are facts about the fat body. Nobody wants to write details of how nobody wants to do sex things with you. ... Even the size-3,000 pantyhose made especially for fat women rip and tear when you try getting your tiny hog feet through the hosiery's filmy fabric. ... Perhaps I should have kept my fat trap shut about fat," she muses.

Once upon a hymnal: Childhood Sundays in a sanctified church inspired Berkeley's Joyce Carol Thomas to write The Gospel Cinderella (Amistad, $15.99, illustrated by David Diaz), a new spin on the fairy tale. Thomas is nominated for a Northern California Book Award, as are fellow East Bayites Judy Sierra, Kim Addonizio, Pamela Turner, Liz Waldner, Richard Walker, and Willis Barnstone. The awards ceremony is April 13 at San Francisco's main library.

The spirits speak: Vodou -- it's not spelled voodoo anymore -- can make you sane, a Haitian woman remarks in a vivid coffee-table book from Berkeley's Ten Speed Press. "Haiti has very few mental institutions. Vodou provides us Haitians with many channels to filter our frustrations, our problems, and even our sexual ambivalence ... therapists in Haiti must have 'backup' jobs." Phyllis Galembo's Vodou ($24.95) probes the so-secret religion. As for zombies, aka the living dead, do they really roam the Haitian countryside? "The answer is complex," we are told. Uh -- yeah.


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