This brilliant darkness A book of strangers

Jeff Sharlet

Book - 2020

"As a journalist suddenly skeptical of the power of words to tell the deepest truths of other people's stories, Jeff Sharlet turned to taking snapshots and posting them on Instagram- images that he then reflected on in words of extraordinary intimacy and power. A visionary work of radical empathy, this collection of images and reflections is framed by the two years between his father's heart attack and his own, a time defined by insomnia and late- night driving and the companionsh...ip of other darkness- dwellers: night bakers and last- call drinkers, frightened people and frightening people, the homeless and the lost (or merely disoriented), addicts and people on the margins. A book that erases all boundaries between author and subject and reader, between the "safe" and the afflicted, This Brilliant Darkness is a riveting, light- bearing inquiry into the ways we live with suffering"--

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Subjects
Genres
Creative nonfiction
Published
New York, NY : W. W. Norton & Company [2020]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
vii, 320 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 22 cm
ISBN
9781324003205
1324003200
Main Author
Jeff Sharlet (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

After his father's heart attack and his own, a shock at age 44, immersion journalist Sharlet, whose books The Family (2008) and C Street (2010) inspired a 2019 Netflix documentary series, began taking smartphone photographs. A night owl drawn to the off-kilter and the broken, his nocturnal wanderings brought him into contact with fellow night shifters. He took pictures of bakers and fast-food cashiers, drinkers and drug users, the overlooked, and the discounted, and got them to talk about themselves. Sharlet photographed tattoos and t-shirts, messages from the edge where people struggle with poverty, mental illness, and discrimination. Sharlet's most in-depth accounts tell the crushing stories of homeless people on Skid Row in L.A., especially the tragic tale of Charly Keunang, an elegant immigrant from Cameroon who was murdered in an unprovoked confrontation with police. Sharlet also recorded street encounters in Dublin, and the struggles of courageous gay activists in violently homophobic Moscow. With shimmers of Robert Frank and James Agee, Sharlet's images and words, hypnotic and haunting flares in the dark, coalesce into a trenchant work of witness and empathy. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Booklist Reviews

After his father's heart attack and his own, a shock at age 44, immersion journalist Sharlet, whose books The Family (2008) and C Street (2010) inspired a 2019 Netflix documentary series, began taking smartphone photographs. A night owl drawn to the off-kilter and the broken, his nocturnal wanderings brought him into contact with fellow night shifters. He took pictures of bakers and fast-food cashiers, drinkers and drug users, the overlooked, and the discounted, and got them to talk about themselves. Sharlet photographed tattoos and t-shirts, messages from the edge where people struggle with poverty, mental illness, and discrimination. Sharlet's most in-depth accounts tell the crushing stories of homeless people on Skid Row in L.A., especially the tragic tale of Charly Keunang, an elegant immigrant from Cameroon who was murdered in an unprovoked confrontation with police. Sharlet also recorded street encounters in Dublin, and the struggles of courageous gay activists in violently homophobic Moscow. With shimmers of Robert Frank and James Agee, Sharlet's images and words, hypnotic and haunting flares in the dark, coalesce into a trenchant work of witness and empathy. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Following his father's heart attack, Sharlet (English, Dartmouth Coll.; The Family) spent many a night in isolation as he traveled between his home and his father's, often in the loneliest hours of the night. In these travels he met others living isolated lives, including graveyard shift workers and people experiencing illness or homelessness or violence, and started documenting their lives by posting their photographs on his Instagram account. Through these stories, Sharlet not only looks at their pain, but explores his own, and confronts these stories not by glamorizing the suffering, but humanizing it by breaking through the isolation and getting to know the subjects of his images, erasing the line between journalist and subject. VERDICT Sharlet provides a poignant and wholly intimate portrait of the lives of those who are often overlooked in our society, breathing a sense of humanity into a part of our world that is so often inhumane. A highly recommended book that is at times difficult to take in and difficult to put down.—Michael C. Miller, Austin P.L. & Austin History Ctr., TX Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Lives lived in shadows and corners are lit up in these offbeat photo-journalistic essays. Journalist and Dartmouth writing professor Sharlet (The Family) roams several continents, snapping smartphone photos he posts on Instagram and talking to people: night-shift workers at a Dunkin Donuts in Vermont; a far-right gun fanatic in Schenectady, N.Y.; a Ugandan clergyman who's terrified of a witch's curse; brother-sister street-junkies in Dublin, Ireland. Most of the pieces are short, evanescent essays, but Sharlet includes longer pieces, including a profile of a homeless African immigrant on L.A.'s Skid Row who was shot to death, unarmed, by police, and a sketch of a mentally fragile New England woman struggling to control her life, her only friend a potted plant named Bandit. Sharlet's haunting photos accompany clipped, pointilist, but expressive prose that evokes character and tragedy: a New Hampshire arsonist "told the police (there were things he wanted them to know) that he used the flag to burn the church, that he tried to burn the children, that he did what he did—and, if they let him go, would do more—because he was angry with God." The result is a triumph of visual and written storytelling, both evocative and moving. (Feb.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The “immersion journalist” and award-winning author of The Family describes his post-heart attack decision forge human connections, in a work of radical empathy that explores topics ranging from the loneliness of dementia to gay pride in Putin’s Russia.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"As a journalist suddenly skeptical of the power of words to tell the deepest truths of other people's stories, Jeff Sharlet turned to taking snapshots and posting them on Instagram- images that he then reflected on in words of extraordinary intimacy andpower. A visionary work of radical empathy, this collection of images and reflections is framed by the two years between his father's heart attack and his own, a time defined by insomnia and late- night driving and the companionship of other darkness- dwellers: night bakers and last- call drinkers, frightened people and frightening people, the homeless and the lost (or merely disoriented), addicts and people on the margins. A book that erases all boundaries between author and subject and reader, between the "safe" and the afflicted, This Brilliant Darkness is a riveting, light- bearing inquiry into the ways we live with suffering"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A visionary work of radical empathy.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

Known for immersion journalism that is more immersed than most people are willing to go, and for a prose style that is somehow both fierce and soulful, Jeff Sharlet dives deep into the darkness around us and awaiting us.This work began when his father had a heart attack; two years later, Jeff, still in his forties, had a heart attack of his own. In the grip of writerly self-doubt, Jeff turned to images, taking snapshots and posting them on Instagram, writing short, true stories that bloomed into documentary. During those two years, he spent a lot of time on the road: meeting strangers working night shifts as he drove through the mountains to see his father; exploring the life and death of Charley Keunang, a once-aspiring actor shot by the police on LA’s Skid Row; documenting gay pride amidst the violent homophobia of Putin’s Russia; passing time with homeless teen addicts in Dublin; and accompanying a lonely woman, whose only friend was a houseplant, on shopping trips.This Brilliant Darkness