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#TuesdayBookBlog HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead (@LittleBrownUK) Fabulous writing about 1960s Harlem (and much more)

Hi all:

I bring you a review by an author who has become very well known in recent years and has won two Pulitzer Prizes, although I had only read one of his novels before. But I am sure I’ll keep reading his books.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (Now a major Amazon Prime TV show)

‘Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…’

To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably-priced furniture, making a life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home.

Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger and bigger all the time.

See, cash is tight, especially with all those instalment plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace at the furniture store, Ray doesn’t see the need to ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweller downtown who also doesn’t ask questions.

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa – the ‘Waldorf of Harlem’ – and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do, after all. Now Ray has to cater to a new clientele, one made up of shady cops on the take, vicious minions of the local crime lord, and numerous other Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he starts to see the truth about who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?

Harlem Shuffle is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem. 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08VNSGJK7/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08VNSGJK7/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B08VNSGJK7/

Author Colson Whitehead

About the author:

Colson Whitehead is the author eight novels and two works on non-fiction, including The Underground Railroad, which received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal, the Heartland Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Hurston-Wright Award, and was longlisted for the Booker Prize. The novel is being adapted by Barry Jenkins into a TV series for Amazon. Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys received the Pulitzer Prize, The Kirkus Prize, and the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.

A recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in New York City.

https://www.amazon.com/Colson-Whitehead/e/B001IZ1GHW/

 Here you can read an interview he gave in Goodreads about this novel:

https://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/1553.Colson_Whitehead/

 My review:

I thank NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I read and reviewed Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys (a Pulitzer Prize winner), loved it, and when I heard he had a new book coming out, I had to check it out. Well, it is different, that is true, but I loved it as well.

Most of what any prospective reader might want to know about this novel is well summarised in the last paragraph of the description:

Harlem Shuffle is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.

 

Perhaps ‘a hilarious morality play’ is a bit of an exaggeration (the hilarious part, although it depends on one’s sense of humour: I agree there is plenty of humour in the novel, but most of it is on the twisted and dark side of the spectrum), but the rest, pretty accurate.

I am not known for my brief reviews, but I’ll try to offer an overview of the most important aspects, in my opinion, and then add a few comments.

Whitehead writes beautifully and has a great skill in making readers feel as if they were walking the streets of Harlem in the 1960s, boiling with racial tension, social upheaval, corruption at all levels, but beauty and hope as well. He also brings to life a complex and engaging cast of characters who are interconnected in different ways. Family plays an important part in the story, not only the family tradition (the sins of the fathers, in this case), but also the relationship between Carney and his cousin, Freddie, who has a knack for getting into trouble. The overall novel is divided up into three crime-related episodes or novellas, several years apart, which illustrate the changes in the characters’ lives, in the society of the time, and also in New York and Harlem. In some ways, the two cousins seem to have taken two completely opposite paths: while Carney’s life is on the up, getting more successful with his business (and his ever-so-slightly crooked activities) as we progressed through the novel, Freddie’s lifestyle is deteriorating, and he is falling down a slippery slope. Or at least that’s how things appear to be on the surface, to those who aren’t in the know. The ending is fitting, and although some readers felt disappointed because they expected something different; based on its own merits, this is an excellent book. As one of the reviewers put it, this is perhaps not a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, but one can’t blame the author for wanting to write a different kind of book and succeeding.

I’ve said I wanted to add a few comments, and here they come.

The novel is written in the third person, mostly from Carney’s point of view, but also from some of the other characters, and that works well, as we get access to other perspectives and see Carney from outside, as others see him. There is a fair amount of telling in the story, because a lot of things happen to some of the characters who are not centre stage, and it is not unusual for the story to take detours and provide us with some background information that might appear surplus to the story at the time (but it rarely is). This is not a mystery, though, so it does not follow the standard format of the novels in that genre, and it is much more focused on other issues, like the location, the dynamics of the neighbourhood, the local politics, the social unrest, the race riots, the local politics, the corruption… It brought to my mind a fabulous scene from the movie Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) —which I fervently recommend to anybody interested in heist movies or good movies in general— where an experienced con-man is teaching his apprentice the lay of the land. They are talking about tricksters, con-men, and crime, and the more experienced con-man tells the other that crime and tricksters are all around; one only needs to know where to look, and the camera picks up an incredible variety of crimes taking place around them. It is mind-boggling. And, indeed, although the action of the novel takes place in Harlem in the early 1960s, the events and the underlying politics could easily be transplanted to many present day locations. (It definitely made me think of fairly recent incidents in the city where I live).

I have mentioned the reviews. Apart from the issue of unmet expectations (and reading some other reviews it is quite evident that the author has been writing for quite a while and loves to try different genres, so this novel seems to fit in his overall oeuvre), some readers did not feel they cared much for the central character. Carney is neither totally sympathetic, nor the opposite. He protests too much at times, and although he has a strong sense of family, tries to protect his cousin (which costs him at times, but it is not all bad either), and loves his wife and children; he is no model citizen either. He does not fight the system as much as adapt to it and always makes sure he is in the best position to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves. He is not a conventional hero, for sure, and there are secondary characters which readers like much more than him (Pepper, a totally uncharacteristic criminal type, is a favourite, and yes, I like him as well), but if we read the novel as a morality play, as suggested, then this is not surprising but totally understandable. Other points many reviewers make are the meandering nature of the stories, how often we get sidetracked, and also the fact that there is a fair amount of telling. That is true, but I didn’t mind at all. I was happy to follow the characters and the stories wherever they took me, but if readers are expecting a standard mystery or crime novel, where every little detail propels the story forwards and the prose is bare and streamlined, this is not their book.

If I had to find fault, or complain, I would say that I would have liked to hear more from and about the female characters in the story. Carney’s wife sounds interesting, and her job at a travel agency catering for African-American travellers made me think of Green Book, but we never see things from her perspective, and the same is true of Freddie’s mother, who brought him up almost single-handedly and also played a big part in Carney’s life, despite holding a job as a nurse at the same time. There are other women in the story, but none take centre stage, or only fleetingly.

Whitehead writes beautifully, and his words flow with ease and flair, no matter if he’s describing a place, immersing us in the internal thoughts of a character, sharing a bit of witty dialogue, or providing us an insight into the historical and social reality of a place and an era. I highlighted much of the book, and I must admit that his first lines are joining my list of favourites, and this book’s opening proves it again.

‘Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…’

 As usual, I recommend people thinking of buying the book to check a sample first, if they aren’t sure it would be a good fit, but I couldn’t resist sharing some bits of it. Please, remember that I read an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final version of the novel.

 “Newspapers talking about ‘looting,’” Buford continued. “Should ask the Indians about looting. This whole country’s founded on taking other people’s shit.”

 These days he didn’t know where everybody’d gone. Jail, the graveyard, sure, but besides that. There were no pension plans for retired safecrackers, for heisters and hustlers.

 Pepper faced the man, with the resignation of a man discovering his toilet is still busted after the plumber had left.

 So, if you are looking for a novel by one of the most interesting novelists around, one who isn’t afraid to challenge and/or disappoint expectations, love unusual takes on recent historical fiction, enjoy books that don’t stick to a genre, want to learn more about Harlem in the 1960s, and love fantastic writing, this is for you. It is neither The Underground Railroad nor The Nickel Boys, but it is well worth a read.

Thanks to the author, the publisher, and especially to all of you for reading, commenting, hopefully liking, and sharing it with anybody who might be interested. And please, stay safe and keep smiling. ♥

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview RETURNING TO THE LAND OF THE MORNING CALM by Hans M. Hirschi (@Hans_Hirschi) #LGBT A truly romantic novel about a love that survives against all odds

Hi all:

Today is the book launch of Hans M. Hirschi‘s new book. And I had to bring it to you. Here it is:

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm by Hans M. Hirschi
Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm by Hans M. Hirschi

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm by Hans M Hirsch

Martin is eighty-four years old, a Korean War veteran, living quietly in a retirement home in upstate New York. His days are ruled by the routine of the staff, but in his thoughts and dreams, Martin often returns to the Seoul of his youth, and the lost true love of his life. Two close friends urge him to travel back to search for his love. What awaits Martin in Korea, more than six decades after he left the country on a troop transport back to the U.S.?

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is a story of friendship, love, and family, in all its many shapes, across time, generations and cultures.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Returning-Land-Morning-Calm-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B07C8FFR4D/

https://www.amazon.com/Returning-Land-Morning-Calm-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B07C8FFR4D/

Author Hans M. Hirschi
Author Hans M. Hirschi

About the author:

Hans M Hirschi has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years. A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world extensively and published a couple of non-fictional titles on learning and management.

The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with the opportunity to once again unleash his creative writing, writing feel-good stories you’ll remember.

Having little influence over his brain’s creative workings, he simply indulges it and goes with the flow. However, the deep passion for a better world, for love and tolerance are a read thread throughout both his creative and non-fictional work.

Hans lives with his husband, son, and pets on a small island off the west coast of Sweden. English isn’t his first or even second language. It’s his seventh!

Contact Hans through his website at http://www.hirschi.se

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hans-M.-Hirschi/e/B00E0DP0EE/

My review:

Thanks to the publishing company and to the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book prior to its publication that I freely chose to review.

I met the Hans Hirschi through Twitter and his blog, and after having read a number of his fiction books (I have a few still pending, but I hope I’ll catch up on them at some point), I’ve reviewed them (you can check my most recent review of one of his books here), and I’ve become a fan. One of the things that I particularly enjoy about the author’s blog is the way he talks about the process of writing his books. As they are about a variety of topics (they fall within the LGBT fiction general remit, but they do touch on many other subjects, from dementia to architecture, from music to looking after somebody with a serious illness, and they are also set in a variety of places, from India to Sweden), the process of his research and the choices he has to make are fascinating, especially for a writer or anybody interested in the sweat, blood, and tears behind a book’s creation. In this case, I had read about the language difficulties (as part of the book is set in Korea, in the early 1950s, and in the present), a visit to Korea to get a sense of the place, the historical part of it… and I was very intrigued, as it is not a country I am familiar with, other than through the snippets I get from the news. So I was very happy when I was given the opportunity to read this book ahead of its publication. And I can reassure those who know Mr. Hirschi as the Queen of Unconventional Happy Endings. He’s done it again.

This book, perhaps the most romantic of the books I’ve read so far by this author, in my opinion, is about a love story that has survived incredible odds and lasted almost a whole lifetime. Despite being separated by different continents, being from different backgrounds, and hardly knowing each other’s languages and customs, two young men meet in Korea shortly after the war (in 1953) and feel attracted to each other. One, Martin, is an African-American soldier with a penchant for languages, helping the UN with the pacification tasks. The other, Ji-Hoon, is a young man working at the family restaurant, whose future path has been decided for him. He will get married and inherit the family business. They are both young, beautiful, and inexperienced. In such strange circumstances, they meet and get to know each other. Martin helps Ji-Hoon’s family providing supplies as often as he can, and he ends up becoming a friend of the whole family. But, they are not meant to be together. Martin goes back to the US and never meets anybody he feels the same about as he did for Ji-Hoon. He knows he was going to get married, but after a brief epistolary contact, they lose touch. Now in his eighties, thanks to a new nurse at the nursing home where he is staying, Kevin, and to the brother of one of the other residents, Eugene, he is encouraged to find out what happened to the true love of his life.

The story, although written in the third person, is told from Martin’s point of view. There are chapters set in the present, interspersed with chapters that took place in Korea after the war, providing the readers the background to understand both, the love story, and also how time has passed and changed things. There is a fair amount of telling in the book, as Martin, who is, in many ways, old-fashioned, not used to talking about his feelings, and of a generation where being openly gay was not the done thing (and in his case, being compounded by the race issue it would have made his life even harder), lives pretty much a quiet life, full of memories of the one event and emotion that really shook his world. Martin is confronted by some openly gay men (very different in outlook: Kevin, a Goth nurse who has trouble fitting in, but not with his sexuality; Eugene, who found a refuge for his more flamboyant mannerisms in an acting career; and Eugene’s nephew, who is married to another man and has children and a blissful family life, other than the conflict with his mother) and their questions and different outlooks make him, in a way, come of age and wonder, not only how things could have been, but also, why things could be. The fact that men still find him attractive, and there is still plenty of life left in him, together with the encouragement he receives, makes him go back to Korea pursuing the love of his youth.

The beautifully detailed writing manages to bring Korea to life, both in the post-war era and now. We share in Martin’s point of view and that makes us see the beauty of it, the wonder, but also the confusion and how much it has changed when we get to the present. The descriptions of places, food, and moments are emotional and beautiful. Korea and the way it has changed over time parallels what has happened to Martin. There are traces of the past, love for respect and tradition, but some of the old things had to be removed to make way for the new, and some could not be saved. It is not all for the better, but there is still beauty there, and its people are still the people Martin felt so fond of.

In some ways, we know little about Martin, who is not somebody who talks about him easily, and who only makes passing comments about his previous life and shares some brief snippets about his parents, his work, and his lovers over the years, but does not dwell on them. He is a modest and humble man who seems unaware of how much people like him or how fond they are of him. He is a credible character, and his doubts and hesitations fit in well with his age, his outlook on life, and also the effect he has on others. At the same time, his exploration of life and his perfect role as an observer when he first goes to Korea and on his return help readers explore and feel at one with him, sharing in his wonder and confusion.

Apart from Korea and the love story at the heart of the book, there are many other themes that come into play and create a complex background. The three men who end up going to Korea face some challenges and prejudice. While Martin could hide his sexual orientation, his skin colour was there for everybody to see, and being in the military he was fully aware of how different a treatment he was likely to receive from his colleagues. Eugene could not hide his gayness and pass for straight, and his lifestyle put him at risk. We know the #MeToo does not only apply to women, and in Eugene’s case, it had serious consequences for him. He was shunned by his sister all of his life, for being who he was. And his nephew suffered the same fate. Kevin, whose looks and style-choices have made him a bit of an outsider, is a loner and feels more comfortable with Martin than with people his age. There are parallels and similarities between the —at least at first sight— very different characters, and later on, we see these parallels are also in evidence across the world, with religious beliefs and conservative traditions coming in the way of love and understanding. We see Ji-Hoon only through Martin’s eyes at first, and he is not always insightful about people around him or about how he is perceived by others, but we have an opportunity to see what impact he truly had on his friends later on in the book.

Although the story of elderly men or women trying to find a lost love is not new, I enjoyed Martin’s process of discovery and his coming into his own. I love the comradery and the way the three men helped each other, with Eugene playing the fairy godmother and facilitating the trip, Kevin providing the technical and hands-on know-how, and Martin confronting his fears to become the hero he was meant to be. This is a novel about friendship, about history, about love, and about hope. We should never lose our hope and dreams. Nothing is impossible if we don’t give up. (Ah, there is no erotica, in case that you, like me, don’t particularly enjoy it).

The author includes a recipe at the end (the dish is central to the story, so I won’t go into detail), and he also explains some of the process and the language difficulties he faced and adds a glossary of terms at the end.

A gorgeous cover, for a truly romantic book that goes beyond the standard love story and includes an ensemble of characters you’ll feel sorry to say goodbye to. I’ll be eagerly waiting for Mr. Hirschi’s next book.

Thanks to the author and the publishers, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and keep on smiling!

[amazon_link asins=’1786451611,B01GMVWN46,178645047X,1786451212,B015HHGLFI,B01E0TEUZM,B00X0Y9DWY,B014JYNF9U’ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’04557dc7-5cce-11e8-86ad-65cdb1aafbc9′]

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Book review Book reviews

#Tuesdaybookblog #Bookreview Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (@jesmimi) (@ScribnerBooks) Magic realism in the heart of darkness. A must read.

Hi all:

Today I’m sharing the review of a book that is not yet available in the UK but I hope you’ll keep it in mind. I’m sorry for including so many editorials reviews, but it’s received a lot of attention in the US and I’m not surprised.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmnyn Ward

‘This wrenching new novel by Jesmyn Ward digs deep into the not-buried heart of the American nightmare. A must’ Margaret Atwood

‘A powerfully alive novel haunted by ghosts; a road trip where people can go but they can never leave; a visceral and intimate drama that plays out like a grand epic, Sing, Unburied, Sing is staggering’ Marlon James, Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2015

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America. It is a majestic new work from an extraordinary and singular author.

https://www.amazon.com/Sing-Unburied-Jesmyn-Ward-ebook/dp/B071FK5CHS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sing-Unburied-Jesmyn-Ward-ebook/dp/B071FK5CHS/

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of September 2017: A slamming, heartbreaker of a novel that is rendered with such stinging beauty and restrained emotion that despite the anguish taking place on the page, you won’t want it to end. For her third novel, National Book Award winning Jesmyn Ward, tells the story of Jojo, a young black Mississippi boy raised by his grandparents, who is forced to become a man far before he should because his mother is a drug addict, his father is in jail, and his baby sister needs a guardian. When Jojo’s dad is released from prison, Leonie packs Jojo and Kayla in the car, picks up her meth addled friend and drives north. What transpires is a nightmarish journey that weaves in and out of the present – Leonie’s meth induced highs, when she dreams of her dead brother who was killed by white hands decades ago, and the past — when a man named Ritchie served time alongside Jojo’s grandfather. Sing, Unburied, Sing shimmers with mythic southern memories to tell a story of the drugged and the damned and the fluttering promise of youth. –Al Woodworth

Review

“Ghosts, literal and literary, haunt nearly every page of Sing, Unburied, Sing — a novel whose boundaries between the living and the dead shift constantly, like smoke or sand. Set on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi (a place rich in oil rigs and atmosphere, if almost nothing else), the book’s Southern gothic aura recalls the dense, head-spinning prose of William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor. But the voice is entirely Ward’s own, a voluptuous magical realism that takes root in the darkest corners of human behavior … Ward, whose Salvage the Bones won a National Book Award, has emerged as one of the most searing and singularly gifted writers working today. Grade: A.”
Entertainment Weekly

“However eternal its concerns, Sing, Unburied, Sing, Ward’s new book, is perfectly poised for the moment. It combines aspects of the American road novel and the ghost story with a timely treatment of the long aftershocks of a hurricane and the opioid epidemic devouring rural America.”
The New York Times

“Staggering … even more expansive and layered [than Salvage the Bones]. A furious brew with hints of Toni Morrison and Homer’s “The Odyssey,” Ward’s novel hits full stride when Leonie takes her children and a friend and hits the road to pick up her children’s father, Michael, from prison. On a real and metaphorical road of secrets and sorrows, the story shifts narrators — from Jojo to Leonie to Richie, a doomed boy from his grandfather’s fractured past — as they crash into both the ghosts that stalk them, as well as the disquieting ways these characters haunt themselves.”
Boston Globe

Sing, Unburied, Sing is many things: a road novel, a slender epic of three generations and the ghosts that haunt them, and a portrait of what ordinary folk in dire circumstances cleave to as well as what they — and perhaps we all — are trying to outrun.”
New York Times Book Review

“While the magical element is new in Ward’s fiction, her allusiveness, anchored in her interest in the politics of race, has been pointing in this direction all along. It takes a touch of the spiritual to speak across chasms of age, class, and color … The signal characteristic of Ward’s prose is its lyricism. “I’m a failed poet,” she has said. The length and music of Ward’s sentences owe much to her love of catalogues, extended similes, imagistic fragments, and emphasis by way of repetition … The effect, intensified by use of the present tense, can be hypnotic. Some chapters sound like fairy tales. This, and her ease with vernacular language, puts Ward in fellowship with such forebears as Zora Neale Hurston and William Faulkner.”
The New Yorker

“[A] tour de force … Ward is an attentive and precise writer who dazzles with natural and supernatural observations and lyrical details … she continues telling stories we need to hear with rare clarity and power.”
O, the Oprah Magazine

“Gorgeous … Always clear-eyed, Ward knows history is a nightmare. But she insists all the same that we might yet awaken and sing.”
Chicago Tribune

“The novel is built around an arduous car trip: A black woman and her two children drive to a prison to pick up their white father. Ward cleverly uses that itinerant structure to move this family across the land while keeping them pressed together, hot and irritated. As soon as they leave the relative safety of their backwoods farm, the snares and temptations of the outside world crowd in, threatening to derail their trip or cast them into some fresh ordeal …. The plight of this one family is now tied to intersecting crimes and failings that stretch over decades. Looking out to the yard, Jojo thinks, ‘The branches are full. They are full with ghosts, two or three, all the way up to the top, to the feathered leaves.’ Such is the tree of liberty in this haunted nation.”
Washington Post

“In this lush and lonely novel, Ward lets the dead sing. It’s a kind of burial.”
NPR

“Ward unearths layers of history in gorgeous textured language, ending with an unearthly chord.”
BBC

“The heart of Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is story — the yearning for a narrative to help us understand ourselves, the pain of the gaps we’ll never fill, the truths that are failed by words and must be translated through ritual and song …. Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love, and this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it.”
Buzzfeed

“Jesmyn Ward’s new novel is like a modern Beloved, with the cruelty of the criminal justice system swapped in for the torments of slavery … Sing marks Ward as the sharpest voice in the contemporary conversation around the past’s relationship to the present … Sing is an expansive endeavor.”
Slate

“Very beautiful.”
—Vox

“Macabre and musical. [Ward] has a knack for capturing vivid details from contemporary poverty: skeletal houses covered in insulation paper, laborers on the prison farm ‘bent and scuttling along like hermit crabs.’ Her lyrical language elevates desperation into poetic reverie … a gripping and melodious indictment of modern racial injustices.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“If William Faulkner mined the South for gothic, stream-of-consciousness tragedy, and Toni Morrison conjured magical realism from the corroding power of the region’s race hatred, then Ward is a worthy heir to both. This is not praise to be taken lightly. Ward has the command of language and the sense of place, the empathy and the imagination, to carve out her own place among the literary giants.”
The Dallas Morning News

“After winning the National Book Award for Salvage the Bones, Ward is back, with an epic family saga, an odyssey through rural Mississippi’s past and present.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“In her first novel since the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward immerses the reader in a mesmerizing, cathartic family story … Ward’s spellbinding prose has a fervid physicality, teeming with the sights, smells, tastes and textures of her native Gulf town of DeLisle, Mississippi, rechristened here as Bois Sauvage. Her images pulse with stunning intensity, seeming to peer into the hidden nature of things, while laying bare the hearts of her characters. More powerful still is the seemingly boundless compassion that Ward demonstrates toward even the least lovable of her creations, expressed through lines that course with pain and love.”
Seattle Times

“Ms. Ward has mastered a lyrical and urgent blend of past and present here, conjuring the unrestful spirits of black men murdered by white men, and never shying away from the blatant brutality of white supremacy … Ms. Ward’s musical language is the stuff of formidable novelists, and never has it been more finely tuned.”
—The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“As long as America has novelists such as Jesmyn Ward, it will not lose its soul. “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” the story of a few days in the lives of a tumultuous Mississippi Gulf Coast family and the histories and ghosts that haunt it, is nothing short of magnificent. Combining stark circumstances with magical realism, it illuminates America’s love-hate tug between the races in a way that we seem incapable of doing anywhere else but in occasional blessed works of art.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[As] in everything she writes, Ward’s gorgeous evocation of the burden of history reminds me of Mississippi’s most famous writer, in a novel with more than a trace of As I Lay Dying … Always clear-eyed, Ward knows history is a nightmare.  But she insists all the same that we might yet awake and sing.”
—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal

“[Sing, Unburied, Sing has] a fresh, visceral resonance … [its] story of grief, racism and poverty isn’t only Mississippi’s story but our country’s. So, too, let us hope, is its story of resilience and grace.
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“This book is so good that after you read it, you will want to read it again.”
Sun Herald

“If you’ve already encountered Jesmyn Ward, you need know nothing more than that she has a new book out. If you haven’t, put Sing, Unburied, Sing at the top of your must-read list. [Ward’s] writing is page-turning. In Sing, Unburied, Sing, she puts the reader in the car, palpably rendering the oppressive heat, Kayla’s misery, Jojo’s anxiety, the crustiness of their clothing, their unquenchable thirst and the whole electrified atmosphere. Perhaps the most memorable book I’ve read this year, Sing, Unburied, Sing would be an outstanding book club choice.”
Inside Jersey

“[Jesmyn Ward is] one of the most powerfully poetic writers in the country … Readers may be reminded of the trapped spirits in George Saunders’ recent novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, but Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a more direct antecedent.”
Albany Times Union

“Ward is a visceral writer, her sentences often hitting the reader like a slap across the face … Ward tells a sweeping tale about atonement and forgetting, shame and responsibility, and failure, sorrow, hatred and acceptance. She does not offer answers. And maybe there are none. But her vital novel shows that we must heed the singing of the past, and raise our voices to help those wounds to heal.”
—amNew York

“From the opening pages of Sing, Unburied, Sing, you know you’re in for a unique experience among the pecan trees and dusty roads of rural Mississippi. This intricately layered story combines mystical elements with a brutal view of racial tensions in the modern-day American South…Visitations from dead people, tales of snakes that turn into “scaly birds’ whose feathers allow recipients to fly—this material would have felt mannered in the hands of a lesser writer. But Ward skillfully weaves realistic and supernatural elements into a powerful narrative. The writing, though matter-of-fact in its depiction of prejudice, is poetic throughout…an important work from an astute observer of race relations in 21st-century America.”
BookPage

“No reason to delay this spell-bound verdict: With Sing, Unburied, Sing, her third novel, Jesmyn Ward becomes the standard-bearer for contemporary Southern fiction, its fullest, most forceful, most vibrant, and most electrifying voice … While Ward, born and raised in a small coastal community near Pass Christian, Mississippi, is operating within the contours of the Southern literary tradition—in the swampy lilt of her prose, in the scope of her concerns, in the way she entangles setting and character—she is also expanding it, heaving it forward, and revitalizing it in ways that no writer has done in more than a decade.”
Garden & Gun

“Ward tells the story of three generations of a struggling Mississippi family in this astonishing novel … Their stories are deeply affecting, in no small part because of Ward’s brilliant writing and compassionate eye.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“In her follow-up to the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, Ward ambitiously fractures the extended family she portrays along race lines and moves her narrative from the tense realism of Southern rural poverty and prejudice to an African American-rooted magic realism … The narrative … sails through to an otherworldly, vividly rendered ending. Lyrical yet tough, Ward’s distilled language effectively captures the hard lives, fraught relationships, and spiritual depth of her characters.”
Library Journal, starred review

“In her first novel since the National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones (2011), Ward renders richly drawn characters, a strong sense of place, and a distinctive style that is at once down-to-earth and magical.”
Booklist

“If Sing, Unburied, Sing is proof of anything, it’s that when it comes to spinning poetic tales of love and family, and the social metastasis that often takes place but goes unspoken of in marginalized communitieslet alone the black American SouthJesmyn Ward is, by far, the best doing it today. Another masterpiece.”
—Jason Reynolds, author of Ghost

“The connection between the injustices of the past and the desperation of present are clearly drawn in Sing, Unburied, Sing, a book that charts the lines between the living and the dead, the loving and the broken. I am a huge fan of Jesmyn Ward’s work, and this book proves that she is one of the most important writers in America today.”
—Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a road novel turned on its head, and a family story with its feet to the fire. Lyric and devastating, Ward’s unforgettable characters straddle past and present in this spellbinding return to the rural Mississippi of her first book.  You’ll never read anything like it.”
—Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

“Read Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing and you’ll feel the immense weight of history—and the immense strength it takes to persevere in the face of it. This novel is a searing, urgent read for anyone who thinks the shadows of slavery and Jim Crow have passed, and anyone who assumes the ghosts of the past are easy to placate. It’s hard to imagine a more necessary book for this political era.”
—Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

Author Jesmyn Ward
Author Jesmyn Ward

About the author:

Biography

Jesmyn Ward is a former Stegner fellow at Stanford and Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her novels, Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, are both set on the Mississippi coast where she grew up. Bloomsbury will publish her memoir about an epidemic of deaths of young black men in her community. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of South Alabama.

https://www.amazon.com/Jesmyn-Ward/e/B001JOW9NW/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Scribner for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Sometimes, I’d try to write them down, but they were just bad poems, limping down the page: Training a horse. The next line. Cut with the knees.

It stays with me, a bruise in the memory that hurts when I touch it.

I would throw up everything. All of it: food and bile and stomach and intestines and esophagus, organs all, bones and muscle, until all that was left was skin. And then maybe that could turn inside out, and I wouldn’t be nothing no more. Not this…

“Because we don’t walk no straight lines. It’s all happening at once. All of it. We are all here at once. My mama and daddy and they mamas and daddies.” Mam looks to the wall, closes her eyes. “My son.”

Both of us bow together as Richie goes darker and darker, until he’s a black hole in the middle of the yard, like he done sucked all the light and darkness over them miles, over them years, into him, until he’s burning black, and then he isn’t. There…

“Let’s go,” I say. Knowing that tree is there makes the skin on my back burn, like hundreds of ants are crawling up my spine, seeking tenderness between the bones to bit. I know the boy is there, watching, waving like grass in water.

I decided to start with some quotes (and I would happily quote the whole book, but there would be no point) because I know I could not make its language justice. This is a book about a family, three generations of an African-American family in the South and it has been compared to works by Morrison and Faulkner, and that was what made me request the book as they are among my favourite authors. And then, I kept reading about it and, well, in my opinion, they are not wrong. We have incredible descriptions of life in the South for this rural family (smells, touch, sound, sight, taste, and even the sixth sense too), we have a nightmarish road trip to a prison, with some detours, we have characters that we get to know intimately in their beauty and ugliness, and we have their story and that of many others whose lives have been touched by them.

There are two main narrators, Leonie, a young woman, mother of two children, whose life seems to be on a downward spiral. Her white partner is in prison for cooking Amphetamines, she does drugs as often as she can and lives with her parents, who look after her children, and seems to live denying her true nature and her feelings. Her son, Jojo, is a teenager who has become the main support of the family, looking after his kid sister, Michaela, or Kayla, helping his grandfather and grandmother, rebellious and more grown-up and responsible than his mother and father. Oh, and he hears and understands what animals say, and later on, can also see and communicate with ghosts. His grandmother is also a healer and knows things, although she is riddled with cancer, and his baby sister also seems to have the gift. The third narrator is one of the ghosts, Richie, who before he makes his physical (ghostly?) appearance has been the subject of a story Jojo’s grandfather has been telling him, without ever quite finishing it, seemingly waiting for the right moment to tell him what really happened. When we get to that point, the story is devastating, but so are most of the stories in the novel. Fathers who physically fight with their sons because they love an African-American woman, young men killed because it was not right that a black man win a bet, men imprisoned for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and for being the wrong race… The stories pile up and even the ghosts fight with each other to try and gain a sense of self, to try to belong.

This is magic realism at its best. As I said, the descriptions of the characters, the locations, and the family relationships are compelling and detailed. But there are elements that break the boundaries of realism (yes, the ghosts, and the style of the narration, where we follow interrupted stories, stream of consciousness, and where the living and those who are not really there are given equal weight), and that might make the novel not suitable for everybody. As beautiful as the language is, it is also harsh and raw at times, and incredibly moving.

Although it is short and, for me at least, a page turner, this is not a light read and I’d recommend approaching it with caution if you are particularly sensitive to abuse, violence, drug use, or if you prefer your stories straight, with no otherworldly interferences. Otherwise, check a sample, and do yourselves a favour. Read it. I hadn’t read any of this author’s books before, but I’ll be on the lookout and I’ll try and catch up on her previous work. She is going places.

Thanks very much to NetGalley, Scribner and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

[amazon_link asins=’1501126350,1608196267,1608197654,1932841385′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’4d6559a2-b01c-11e7-823d-a9eb3c70fa74′]

Categories
Book reviews

#Bookreview DARKTOWN by Thomas Mullen (@Mullenwrites) A historical time so far and yet so close to ours. And a great yarn.

Hi all:

darktown-blog-tour

As I’ve been telling you, September is read non-stop month for me, and today I bring you a great story set in a fascinating historical period and location that will be available today (13th September 2016). And it seems it’s going to become a TV series, so, you heard it here first!

I was contacted by the PR department looking after the launch of the book, asked if I wanted to take part in a blog tour, and I share also the press release.

Dark Town by Thomas Muller
Darktown by Thomas Muller

DARKTOWN by Thomas Mullen

6th September 2016, Little, Brown hardback publication, £16.99

 

Atlanta, 1948. In this city, all crime is black and white

 

On one side of the tracks are the rich, white neighbourhoods; on the other, Darktown, the African-American area guarded by the city’s first black police force of only eight men. These cops are kept near-powerless by the authorities: they can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they must operate out of a dingy basement.

 

When a poor black woman is killed in Darktown having been last seen in a car with a rich white man, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust of their community and even their own lives to investigate her death.

 

Their efforts bring them up against a brutal old-school cop. Dunlow, who has long run Darktown as his own turf – but Dunlow’s idealistic young partner, Rakestraw, is a young progressive who may be willing to make allies across colour lines. . .

 

From award-winning author Thomas Mullen comes a riveting and elegant police procedural set in 1948 Atlanta, exploring a murder, corrupt police, and strained race relations that feels ripped from today’s headlines.

 

Soon to be a major TV series from Jamie Foxx and Sony Pictures Television

 

‘A subtle, robustly written novel of compelling contemporary resonance. The ensuing crisis involves the entire community, pitting principles against passion, values against instinct.’ Observer on The Last Town on Earth

‘Mullen is both merciless and measured in his depiction of the natural forces that can drag idealism down to earth.’ Daily Telegraph on The Last Town On Earth

Author Thomas Mullen
Author Thomas Mullen

Thomas Mullen is the author The Last Town on Earth which was named Best Debut Novel of 2006 by USA Today. He was also awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize excellence in historical fiction for The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers and The Revisionists. His works have been named to Year’s Best lists in Grantland Paste, and the Huffington Post and his Atlanta Magazine true crime story about a novelist/con man won the City and the Regional Magazine Award for Best Feature. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and sons.

 

For more information, please contact Grace Vincent, Publicity Manager

 Grace.Vincent@littlebrown.co.uk | 0203 122 6590

Links:Ah, and an interesting phenomenon. I noticed that the description for the different formats of the book seemed to be different. I’m not sure if they’re testing them but…

Kindle:

https://www.amazon.com/Darktown-Thomas-Mullen-ebook/dp/B01D9013IU/

Hardback:

https://www.amazon.com/Darktown-Novel-Thomas-Mullen/dp/1501133861/

Paperback:

https://www.amazon.com/Darktown/dp/0349142068/

Audiobook version:

https://www.amazon.com/Darktown/dp/B01JYE6ZXS/

Dark Town by Thomas Mullen
Dark Town by Thomas Mullen

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Little, Brown Book UK for offering me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

This novel combines an intriguing plot (a police-procedural thriller about an African-American young woman murdered in mysterious circumstances that many want to cover up) with a tense and little explored historical background, post-WWII Atlanta, a place where racial tensions were alive and well. The story takes place shortly after the first African-American men have taken their posts as police officers. The Atlanta of the time is a segregated city, with white and black neighbourhoods, and where the poorest and most criminal area is known as ‘Darktown’. Nobody wants to police it, but the business is booming.

The new members of the police force have a badge and a gun, but can only police the African-American neighbourhoods, cannot enter the police station, are bullied by the white police agents, command no respect, have access to no resources and are stabbed in the back at the slightest opportunity.

The story is told in the third person from several points of views. Most of the story is told in alternating chapters from two of the police officers’ points of views: Rake, a white rookie whose partner is a racist and corrupt police officer who uses force, threats and intimidation to control criminals and peers alike, and Boggs, an African-American policeman, the son of a preacher who is one of the influencers of the well-off African-American community in Atlanta. Rake tries to be a good and ethical policeman but finds it difficult to confront the status quo, and although he tolerates the African-American policemen, he is not pro-equality. For him, the best case scenario is that they keep out of each other’s way. Boggs knows they are only there as a political gesture and any excuse will be good to get rid of them, but he takes a stand and decides to investigate the death of the young African-American woman white detectives don’t care about, no matter what the consequences. There are also brief chapters told from other characters’ points of view, but this is always relevant to the story and I did not find it confusing.

The plot is complex, with several murders, police corruption, false clues, and the added difficulties of the partial sources of information and the obstacles that Rake and Boggs find at every turn. There are many characters that appear only briefly and it is important to be attentive to the story not to miss anything, and towards the end, the author cleverly keeps some of the clues under wraps (you  might have your suspicions but it’s not easy to guess the whole story and wrap it all up).

The action of the novel is kept at good pace,the writing has enough description to make us feel as we were sweating with the characters (and we can almost feel the violence in our own bodies), without ever being overdrawn, and there are quite a few chapters that end in a cliffhanger and makes us keep turning the pages. There is also a well accomplished underlying sense of threat and darkness running through the whole story and it’s impossible to read it and not to think on how much (and also how little) some things have changed.

The main characters have doubts, weaknesses and don’t always do the honourable or “right” thing but that makes them easier to relate to, although not always likeable. I missed having more of a sense of their personal lives (Rake is married but we know next to nothing about his family and although Boggs lives with his family, most of the focus is on the job) but that fits in nicely with the genre. Apart from an African-American Madam, the victim, and a woman who helps divulge some useful information, women don’t have much of a role in the story as seems to correspond to the period. Some of the secondary characters are odious whilst others are all too human, and at times become casualties in a war they never enrolled in.

A well-written story, with a complex plot, set in a relatively recent and turbulent historical period that will make you think about race, discrimination, and progress.

Thanks so much to Net Galley, the author, and Little, Brown Books UK (and Grace Vincent) for the novel, thanks to you for reading and don’t forget to like, share, comment and CLICK!

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