American Time Bomb: Attica, Sam Melville, and a Son’s Search for Answers

Chicago Review. Sept. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9781641605458. $28.99. CRIME
Melville, a record producer who writes about the music industry under the pseudonym Moses Avalon, turns to the subject of his father, Sam Melville, who joined the antiwar movement and helped orchestrate a series of bombings in New York City in 1969. Sam was convicted and imprisoned at Attica; in 1971 he was killed by state police during the infamous Attica Prison uprising. Melville’s memories of his father are relatively scant, as his parents divorced when he was young; here he seeks to understand his father’s motivations and parse what separates the man from the myth. Interviewing other members of his father’s cohort, including Jane Alpert (Growing Up Underground) and Sharon Krebs, Melville discovered that Sam, who was white, agitated for improved conditions at Attica and decried the prison’s blatant racism (guards treated Black inmates far worse than white inmates). Melville connects with his father’s legacy and participates in efforts to see the Attica prisoners recompensed decades later.
VERDICT An engaging and intimate memoir that offers a personal history of the radical underground and adds context to the story of the Attica uprising.
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