jeudi, septembre 07, 2006

Romp-ing Around in the Dark

As of recently, I have been reading a slew of books where Blackness is a major [albeit background] character in the novel, driving the protagonist's actions, informing the dialogue and prominent themes of the novel but is placed in the background of the text as the white protagonist's shift through angst and conflict. In other words Blackness informs the text in pretty much everyway possible but is relegated to the background. I recently re-read Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark and became re-inspired. So, I just completed Sigrid Nunez's The Last of Her Kind and Tony D'Souza's Whiteman, both good books in their own right and I encourage you all to read them.

The Last of Her Kind is narrated by Georgette, i.e. George, a working class young woman, whose roommate Ann, directly influences the course of her life. Ann hails from an extremely wealthy, WASPy family, and detests the privilege and whiteness that she has been born with. When applying to Barnard, she specifically requests a roommate with a "background" [i.e. Black, working class] completely antithetical to her own. Ann despises anyone white, conservative, or not poor. She is indeed the last of her kind, spitting venom to her parents because of their whiteness and privilege, her life propelling her to a place of activism and anti-authority, eventually being convicted of murdering the cop who murdered her Black fiance. The book is narrated in the first person by Georgette.

Whiteman is the tale of Jack Diaz, told in the first person from his point of view. He's a relief worker working in the Ivory Coast and the novel basically recounts his experiences living among the Ivorians --- his frustrations at never seeming to "fit in" as a white man despite his perfection of the language and customs and his sexual encounters with the women there, all amidst the impending warfare between the Christians and the Muslims.

Both books are a good read but its interesting how important Black people are to both books --- in fact they are indispensible yet their stories are secondary. For example, The Last of Her Kind takes place in 1960s New York where the social and political climate was extremely tenuous at best for Blacks and Whiteman delves into a whiteman's experience as a relief worker in the politically mercurial Ivory Coast. Blackness is at once desired and feared. Its almost like both novels explore what its like for a certain kind of "noble" white person of a certain level of privilege to navigate through Blackness. Blackness is to be explored and studied but not the focal point of the novel. These are definitely books you should read if only to form your own opinion. I am going to read Norman Rush's Whites and Mating as well as Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Kipling's Kim as the next books in a series of white people who write about white people living among people of color.

robustious -- adj:1. Boisterous; vigorous. 2. Coarse; rough; crude.

"Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form"
--- Rumi