Letter to Jimmy

Alain Mabanckou. Counterpoint/Soft Skull, $15 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-59376-601-6
Originally written on the 20th anniversary of James Baldwin's death in 1987, this book by Mabanckou (Memoirs of a Porcupine) addresses Baldwin in the second person. Much of the first half recounts Baldwin's biographic details, illuminating the pre–Civil Rights Movement Harlem in which Baldwin was raised or the sense of artistic and personal liberation he would find in France. Precisely because of the use of the second person, the format of the prose can feel a bit stilted; Mabanckou is ostensibly telling Baldwin about his own life: "During your childhood, you have countless opportunities to witness the extent to which your father distrusts the white man, whoever he may be…." Once the rhythm of the text becomes more established, however, Mabanckou displays more clarity on the cultural and political context that Baldwin both represented and contrasted. Eventually, as Mabanckou explores correlations between Baldwin's ideas and the contemporary world, the book really comes into its own. For instance, Mabanckou questions whether some of the "Rwandan genocide" literature echoes Uncle Tom's Cabin: "If we are not careful, an African author will be able to do nothing but await the next disaster…." One of the most influential and fearless writers of the 20th century, Baldwin deserves this celebration of his life, so that readers may encounter, in a new light, the fortitude of this true revolutionary. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/24/2014
Release date: 12/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 978-2-7578-0762-0
Open Ebook - 192 pages - 978-2-213-67481-0
Open Ebook - 978-1-322-38464-1
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