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Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
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Two Women of Little Rock

A-Elizabeth and HazelDavid Margolick, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the author of four previous works of history and biography, including Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song (2001), an account of Billie Holiday's groundbreaking antilynching ballad; Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink (2005), which recounts the legendary heavyweight boxing matches between a black American and a Nazi on the eve of World War II.

The Topic: The iconic black-and-white photo on the book's dust jacket, taken on September 4, 1957, shows a dignified black student, Elizabeth Eckford, walking through an angry white mob bent on keeping her out of an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Directly behind her, a young white woman, Hazel Bryan, spews racist insults, her face grotesquely contorted by hate. Both girls, only 15 years old at the time, later live lives deeply affected by that single historic moment. While Hazel breaks free from her narrow-minded upbringing to embrace social work and activism, Elizabeth spirals downward into poverty, depression, and attempted suicide. A 1997 reunion sparks a remarkable but ultimately too- fragile friendship that crumbles a few years later amid misunderstandings and old resentments--a chilling metaphor for race relations today.
Yale University Press. 320 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780300141931

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Armed with a perceptive eye and a sensitive heart, Margolick brilliantly tells the story of Elizabeth and Hazel. He chronicles a key moment in American history and its complex aftermath, inserting readers into an intensely personal story of two women caught in history's web." Randy Dotinga

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"In his engrossing new book Elizabeth and Hazel, David Margolick expands the [photo's] frame to consider the difficult lives of its two central figures, their attempt at reconciliation and the fact that they don't speak now. ... Elizabeth and Hazel raises the specter that some damage doesn't heal. It is a notion profoundly unsettling to the story we Americans tell about ourselves." Karen R. Long

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Margolick does much more than simply track down two aging women and have them turn the pages of their increasingly fragile memories. His choice to broaden and complicate the narrative--to include the larger minefield of race matters and honest discourse--is what makes this book salient, not sentimental." Lynell George

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It would have been simple enough to turn their stories into a ‘where are they now' piece. But Margolick is after something bigger. Through Eckford and Bryan's tangled lives, he hopes to capture the complexity of race, forgiveness and reconciliation in modern America." Kevin Boyle

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In Elizabeth and Hazel, he provides a patient and evenhanded account of their messy relationship over the decades. ... Margolick proposes no fairy-tale resolutions to such moral impasses. To his credit, he spares us none of the unruly facts as his subjects, still wrestling with history, wander off message." Amy Finnerty

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Because he hasn't been able to penetrate his subjects' inner sanctums--their mistrust of journalists must be enormous--they still seem frozen in symbolism, not quite the unique individuals we know they are. Still, this is an amazing story, told with brio if not depth." Dan Cryer

Wall Street Journal 2.5 of 5 Stars
"To fill out his story, Mr. Margolick lards it with historical footnotes. ... But nothing can overcome the impression that readers could have learned all they needed or wanted to know about Elizabeth and Hazel from an old-school, well-researched and tightly written magazine piece." Edward Kosner

Critical Summary

"A powerful and extraordinary new book" (Christian Science Monitor), Elizabeth and Hazel explores a seminal moment in American history as well as the intertwined lives of its two unwitting participants. With a keen eye, Margolick deftly recreates the tensions and turmoil of the era, separates truth from fiction, and sets the record straight. He refuses to gloss over the gut-wrenching details--particularly the abuse Elizabeth endures in high school--and offers readers no feel-good endings. It's precisely this candor, combined with his elegant prose, which gives the book its authenticity and power. The enthusiastic praise eclipsed some objections to excessive padding and his subjects' inscrutability. By turns disturbing and inspiring, Elizabeth and Hazel is a riveting and deeply affecting biography of a photo and its stark legacy.