Sentence: Ten Years and a Thousand Books in Prison

Viking. Feb. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780525429555. $28. MEMOIR
This debut memoir follows translator and journalist Genis as he describes his prison experience in flashes of memory, presented topically rather than chronologically. Genis writes that the 1,046 books he read during his sentence framed the way he understood his 10 years in prison—including practical questions of surviving jail and prison, but also larger questions about the ethics of prisons and their effects on incarcerated people. Much of the book is dedicated to considering literature about imprisonment (The Autobiography of Malcolm X; Dostoyevsky’s The House of the Dead) and how it comported with Genis’s own experience. The themes he returns to throughout this memoir include: the meaning of race and class in prison; how prison officials encourage racial conflict to maintain division; spirituality and religion in prison, specifically Judaism (Genis’s faith); and the sexual and romantic lives of incarcerated people and their significant others on the outside. He examines his past, drug addiction, the robberies that landed him in jail in New York, and his 10-year prison sentence with a detachment that is resonant of the type of anthropological thinking and lack of visible emotion he found necessary for survival.
VERDICT Genis’s is an intense memoir with descriptions of sex and violent crime; it won’t be for everyone, but is important for readers trying to understand the effect of imprisonment on individuals and society.
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