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By Dick Staub
Grace in the Ghetto
"Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation." By Jonathan Kozol, Crown 288 pp.; $23
I remember my first visit to Egypt. I was met at the airport late at night. I was taken to a beautiful hotel. I couldn't really see much, but I did notice that at least the final quarter of a mile of the trip was along a road bordered by an ornately decorated ten-foot-high plaster wall. And the next morning I found out why. I discovered that my four- or five-star hotel was planted right next to one of Egypt's worst slums. The creative folks in Cairo had simply walled off the slums so that you were living in luxury, and you could look out from your room onto this zone of squalor and deprivation.
The columnist Clarence Page recently described a visit he made to the Dominican Republic. He said he felt like he was witnessing America's future: grinding poverty next door to breathtaking opulence.
Jonathan Kozol has seen these situations up close; he has written about what he has seen, and it has accrued to the benefit of all of us who have been reading him for a while. His first book, "Death at an Early Age," based on his experience teaching fourth grade in a segregated Boston public school, won the National Book Award. With "Illiterate America," he drew attention to the scandal of widespread adult illiteracy. "Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America" changed our perception of the homeless. And, 30 years after the civil rights movement, "Savage Inequalities" documented the persistence of segregation and gross inequities in funding for our public school systems.
Now, in "Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation," Kozol has returned with a personal look at the children who are being raised on the other side of the wall from America's opulence in America's poverty. It's the story of a neighborhood in the South Bronx, Mott Haven. Forty-eight thousand people live there, and the median income is $7,600. Last October in Chicago I talked ...