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Zachary Sklar
The Work
The Work: A Jigsaw Memoir by Zachary Sklar In this moving non-fiction collection, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sklar (JFK, with Oliver Stone) leads readers on an unpredictable personal journey through seven decades of our collective history and politics. Sklar’s wide-ranging essays take us from the hysteria and fear of the 1950s Hollywood blacklist to his collaboration with writer-director Oliver Stone on the screenplay of JFK and the glamour of the Academy Awards. From the Sixties counter culture of California to the Black Gullah-Geechee culture of a South Carolina Sea Island cut off from mainstream America. From the Japanese internment camps of World War II to the coffee fields of 1980s war-torn Nicaragua. From thoroughbred horses running at Saratoga Race Course to a mangy street dog looking for love in the zócalo of Oaxaca, Mexico. At every stop on this memorable journey, Sklar draws vivid portraits of unforgettable brave souls doing the hard work to create a more peaceful, just, and loving world.
Drawing from Allen Ginsberg’s lines about the work of "eas[ing] the pain of living,” journalist and screenwriter Sklar creates a sensitive, illuminating portrait of his life through loving accounts of the people who have truly moved and changed him, such as his playwright and novelist father, who endured fear and paranoia during the McCarthyite anti-Communist blacklist in Hollywood. In each of the incisive essays that chart his personal and political development, plus those of the U.S., Sklar recounts learning from people who have eased the pain of himself and others, something he strived to learn to do himself as he faced travails of his own, like having his credibility as a journalist questioned after co-writing the script for Oliver Stone’s JFK.

Sklar touchingly relates his friendships with investigative reporter William A. Reuben, a colorful raconteur, editor, and horse racing enthusiast devoted to proving to the world Alger Hiss was railroaded by Richard Nixon and his cronies, and with Nyoko, a Japanese-American woman whose parents were imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II. Sklar charts the lifelong scar this left on the family, resulting in tragedy. Also affecting is his account of the transformative experience of serving as a student volunteer on Daufuskie Island, off the coast of South Carolina, in the late 1960s, when the unique Gullah Geechee culture was already in peril from outsider developers. As the younger Sklar questions what good he can achieve, he also faces immediate crises, like burying a friend who dies of exposure. It’s a harrowing yet intimate account of life and death.

Sklar's prose is dramatic without being florid, and he is careful, as he observes crucial relationships and surveys a fractious half century of American history, to aim his focus on his subjects instead of himself. Instead, he offers exquisite testimony of hard-won victories achieved when we take the time to care for each other.

Takeaway: A writer’s moving personal and political history and a call to ease each other’s pain.

Comparable Titles: Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road, June Jordan’s Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A