Philadelphia Fire

John Edgar Wideman, Author Henry Holt & Company $18.95 (199p) ISBN 978-0-8050-1266-8
Wideman's extraordinary new novel is really two books, each an exhilarating, dependent rival of the other. The early passages present expatriate black writer Cudjoe, who returns to his native Philadelphia hoping to write a book about the 1985 police firebombing of the headquarters of a black cult. Cudjoe's homecoming spurs a confluence of vivid memories and impressions within the character's meticulously delineated consciousness. He recalls the abandonment of his white wife and two children; his failed novel; a dead mentor. Through his sensibility we also receive a rich evocation of the urban environment and of the city's new status as a deteriorating, black-governed metropolis. In incantatory, lyrical, naturalistic and inventive prose, Wideman writes of sex and race and life in the city, with all the beauty, profane humor and literary complexity of Joyce writing about Dublin. The final section of the work--with its quickly shifting voices, personas, historical and metaphorical inferences--has as its core a redemptive black vernacular interpretation of Shakespeare's The Tempest , in which the horrific firebombing of the title is raised to the symbolic level of Prospero's storm. Wideman's fiery tempest sets his characters--black and white, male and female, adult and child--into motion, hurtling toward one another with the possibility of self-knowledge and salvation. 75,000 first printing; major ad/promo; author tour. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/29/1990
Release date: 09/01/1990
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 197 pages - 978-0-330-32787-9
Paperback - 199 pages - 978-0-679-73650-9
Paperback - 199 pages - 978-0-618-50964-5
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