by I.B. Freeman
Reviewed by: Push Nevahda
What a writer is obliged to realize at some point is that he is involved with a language which he has to change. For example, for a black writer, especially in this country, to be born into the English language is to realize that the assumptions of which the language operates are his enemy.
So, then, we are not just colored peoples - and this is an important distinction to note (particularly given this Modern World context) because it may be the thing which delineates the difference between the black writer and the white writer, the African artist from the European artist, Brazilian poetry from Canadian poetry, and so on. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. along with several other black scholars have fought long and hard to exorcise the American literary canon of its racist criterion. In Contemporary Black Biography “he has insisted that black literature must be evaluated by the aesthetic criteria of its culture of origin, not criteria imported from Western or European cultural traditions that express a ‘tone deafness to the black cultural voice’ and result in intellectual racism” (Vol. 67. Gale, 2008).
Certainly, Gate’s and Nellie Y. McKay’s Norton Anthology of African American Literature puts forth an honest attempt to shape an African American canon, but still – for the sake of Freeman’s book - we must have a firm understanding of what constitutes African American literature, or at least understand some of the major themes and motifs in African American literature. Suffering, revenge, protest…and then it depends of the era too, right? Writer Nick Chiles is disenchanted at the direction of black literature, and particular what mainstream bookstores “considered African American literature to be.” He recently spoke of a visit to a local bookstore: “[All] that I could see was lurid book jackets displaying all forms of brown flesh, usually half-naked and in some erotic pose, often accompanied by guns and other symbols of criminal life” (What Is African-American Literature? by Gerald Early. 05 February 2009).
But Freeman’s book is more than just another typical urban novel. It is the poignant story of a fellow named Darren Wade who finds out that he has contracted the H.I.V. virus. Distraught, angry, and furious of the possibility of being purposely infected, Wade sets out on a self-destructing path of revenge. But this typical (almost cliché) story is not what keeps the reader engrossed in the story, but rather it is Freeman’s keen insight into both the intimate and psychological lives of H.I.V. patients as well as his keen observations (and critique) of the medical establishment.
So we are back to the situation at hand. We can look at Freeman’s novel from angles. Freeman will never write like Baldwin, Hemingway, nor should he even dream of the faintest possibility that will ever write on the level of Robert Goolrick or Toni Morrison. Yet, at times, Freeman’s writing displays the brilliant simplicity of Morrison’s Bluest Eye, and the symbolism of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. But no one will ever really see that if they measure Freeman’s book by modern standards….and modern standards are always white standards.
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