Friday, October 2, 2015

Review: "Welcome to Braggsville" by T. Geronimo Johnson

It’s hard not to compare T. Geronimo Johnson’s sophomore novel, Welcome to Braggsville to another novel cut from the same cloth, which is Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. Each one deals with modern race relations in a way that is unexpected, insightful and more than a little volatile, asking painful questions on both sides of the debate and coming to the conclusion that it is a more complex issue than we’d like to admit. But while both are good, I think Beatty’s book is funnier and less confusing, reveling in the absurdity of its situation. Johnson’s novel feels a bit more like an experiment, coming more from the world of academia than Beatty’s novel, and some of the ideas it presents get lost along the way. But when this book succeeds, it does so with equal amounts of gusto and heart, bringing to light issues that no one wants to talk about. The story focuses on small-town born and raised D’aron Davenport, who finds himself in another world when he gets accepted into UC Berkeley, a world of protests, activism and political correct thinking. He finds a group of friends quickly; an Asian comedian named Louis, a progressive woman named Candice and a closeted gay black man named Charlie. When they find out Braggsville, D’aron’s home town, hosts an annual Civil War reenactment, they hightail it there for spring break to demonstrate, with tragic, and much unexpected results. This book succeeds where Beatty’s novel does. It shows many facets of race relations that aren’t talked about, like the homophobia in the black community, shown by the alliance between the Nubians and the KKK when they find out about Charlie’s orientation, and the covert paternalistic racism a lot of white liberals are guilty of, once the true nature of the aforementioned tragedy comes to light. It kind of derails at the end, when one of Braggsville’s rituals takes place and just comes off as lazy satire, and even when lives are lost, it was hard for me to feel anything but mild curiosity. But this book is intense; a brutal snapshot of modern life that  is filled with wit, intrigue and hope.
Rating: 4/5

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