Children of Paradise

Children of Paradise

Cold New World does what certain novels used to do: reveal the moral condition of a time and place by telling stories on a large, intimate scale. Near the end of his book, William Finnegan introduces what in fiction would be called a minor character: Ronda Hardin—“a willowy, ice-blond sixteen-year-old” in an outer Los Angeles suburb who has connections with a neo-Nazi skinhead gang. Ronda talked “in a breathy, high, almost reverential voice, about ‘my hatred’ . . . as if the thought of this burning racial animus itself evoked a kind of tender awe.” Finnegan (who is a friend of mine) doesn’t stop with this observed nuance. He goes on to situate the hatred, the girl, the tone of voice: “The frame around everything she said was . . . a sense of loss—loss of a marginal color-caste privilege that, in her mind, was supposed to keep black people beneath her socially, and in that way somehow prevent the worst from happening to her. Because she lacked that reassurance, her beloved hatred seemed to be a main prop of her self-respect.”

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Lima