Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: "The Man Who Cried I Am" by John A. Williams

This book, The Man Who Cried I Am, is probably one of the more obscure books I am ever going to review here, and I think that is saying something. I only found out about it through a DVD extra on the documentary Stone Reader, itself a forgotten documentary on lost books. It was always a curiosity to me, having had it in my collection, and after finally reading it I can’t help be a little disappointed in what I have read. The DVD extra had built it up as this great-unsung masterpiece of African-American literature that could stand alongside Native Son and Invisible Man, but it is more like a novel of the 60’s, and not a very good one at that. The ideas it presents are seem so trivial and unimportant that they simply cannot hold a candle to the dark, cynical spirit in Richard Wright’s Native Son. It comes off as more of a Beat Generation book, which isn’t a compliment. The novel follows Max Reddick, a writer who has found himself sitting in a cafĂ© in Amsterdam waiting for someone. He is desolate and desperate, and we find out why he is such through his dealings with the kind of hardships that a black person has to deal with in a world run by white men. This is where the book succeeds, and, I have to admit, gives it a timeless quality. The racism here isn’t the snarling teeth behind a Klansman hood. It is a much more subtle kind that has seeped into the fabric of modern America, and it is a little harder to get out. But nothing really happens in this book, even when Max must go to Vietnam. I’m not asking for him to kill and cook a white girl, but I wanted to feel a sense of urgency that the book simply didn’t have. You may find something in this book I didn’t. That is, if you ever find yourself reading it.
Rating: 3/5

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