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Book Analysis: The Other Side of the River

Book Analysis: The Other Side of the River



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Published by Computer Guru
Sociopolitical analysis of Alex Kotlowitz's controversial "The Other Side of the River."
Sociopolitical analysis of Alex Kotlowitz's controversial "The Other Side of the River."

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Published by: Computer Guru on Dec 12, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Al-Qudsi 1
Mahmoud Al-QudsiEnglish 252Mr. Meyers5 January 2004
Twin Cities, Twin Races
A book usually follows a set of standards and guidelines that make it a great read;the obvious details include an introduction to the settings and characters, rising action,the climax, the dénouement, and the conclusion. Some authors however can still create anexcellent story while skipping one or more of these parts; and these legacies still live on.However, it is a rare find when an author starts with the climax on the very first page, andmakes the dénouement last until the final page, and still has a great book. Alex Kotlowitzaccomplished this in
The Other Side of the River 
by bringing in other elements andstories involving poverty, race, safety, and more; literally using the death of EricMcGinnis as an excuse to tell a story yearning to be untold, one of the lives, deaths, andmentalities, of thousands of people, white and black alike.On the very first page, Kotlowitz identifies the climax: the murder of EricMcGinnis and the effects it had on the inhabitants of the two affected communities:Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, both in Michigan, separated only by a small river. Thesetwo towns were physically only two and a half miles apart, and the river between them isonly a quarter of a mile wide; however, Kotlowitz described the two cities as beingworlds apart. From the beginning, the dichotomy was evident: ninety-two percent of 
Benton Harbor’s population is black, and ninety
five percent of St. Joseph’s population is
white. St. Joseph is rich and an excellent place to live in while Benton Harbor is
Al-Qudsi 2
impoverished, and was voted as the worst place to reside by many magazines andresearches. The uncharismatic appearance of Benton Harbor had long cast its shadow onSt. Joseph, whose denizens carried a grudge against their counterparts for that.Simultaneously, the citizens of Benton Harbor were ashamed of the segregatedmentalities present in St. Joseph. Most ironically, these two towns are collectivelyr
eferred to as the “Twin Cities” in the story, and in real life too.
 Eric F. McGinnis, an African American inhabitant of Benton Harbor and only 16
years old, “died” on May 17, 1991. There were many speculations
regarding his death,apart from the hundreds of baseless rumors circulating throughout the Twin Cities. Thetwo major theories were as follows. The residents of Benton Harbor held the belief thatEric McGinnis was murdered by one of the many white inhabitants of St. Joseph,supposedly because he was dating a white girl from that city, something highly lookeddown upon by
the whites. The African American story went on to say that the county’s
only detective, Jim Reeves, and the County Prosecutor, Dennis Wiley, were hiding facts,and harboring white criminals. To them Eric McGinnis was a hero, and served as anoutlet for years of anger and prejudice, as well as a representation of all the crimes that
the white race had perpetrated against the African American “family.”
 The White side of the story showed much less anger towards the blacks they werenot necessarily any less racially prejudiced in their attitude. This can be attributed to thefact that they did not need words to express their feelings to the Blacks, their actionsspoke both loud and clear enough. The White population referred to Eric McGinnis
 drowning as a freak occurrence on the wet and muddy slopes of the St. Joseph River, andnot in any way a violent crime. The investigators approached this from the White point of 
Al-Qudsi 3
view, doing only a very basic autopsy, and not bothering to verify their work with experts
in that field. The government labeled McGinnis’ death as accidental on his death
certificate.This nonfiction novel came about as the result of the introduction of yet anothercharacter into this investigation: Alex Kotlowitz. He took it upon himself to tell the storyof the unlucky child, and to a
ttempt to discover the truth for the satisfaction of Eric’s
parents, himself, and the Twin Cities. What originally appeared to be a relatively simpleinvestigation soon turned into a six-year obsession for Kotlowitz, who swore to achieve justice. He questioned everyone in Benton Harbor, and all the Whites that McGinnis evermet, but he never came to a conclusive answer. Evidences clashed, scandals wereabounding, and the truth was to be never recovered.Some of the interesting discoveries that Kotlowitz makes in his search for thetruth is that the Twin Cities
have much in common, including the pressing issues of safety, police, socio-economic inequality, and most importantly, race. When Kotlowitzbegins his search for the true story behind the death of Eric McGinnis, he questions manypeople from both cities, to discover that both Benton Harbor and St. Joseph are saddenedby the death of a 16-year-old black, but not for the same reasons. The residents of BentonHarbor are saddened by this death, because he was one of their numbers, but aresimultaneously angered at what they believe was a racist crime, with clear motives. Theyrefuse to believe that McGinnis had stolen $44 from a white
parked car; and theyexpressed their belief that this was not just a crime against one teenager and his family,but also a crime against all African Americans. To them, this atrocious sin was notcommitted because of 
McGinnis was, but rather
he was.

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