What of a land where people’s lives are thwarted at every turn, where prospects are determined by party status, where movements are restricted by permits, orders, and decrees, where “justice” is meted out mercilessly, and against which there is no recourse.
The son of a Polish-American father and Chinese immigrant mother, Thaddeus Rutkowski, along with his brother and sister, grew up in rural Central Pennsylvania. A thoughtful, intelligent child, Thaddeus had a love of nature and books and excelled at school, but was unpopular with his classmates, mostly because of his intelligence.
America, wrote Ishmael Reed in his 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo, is “mercurial, restless, violent ... the travelling salesman who can sell the world a Brooklyn Bridge every day, can put anything over on you”.
In an arena of fans and critics primed for the often-bloody sport of declamation, it takes much nerve to attempt to tell the definitive story of a major literary figure. But with Chester B. Himes: A Biography, author Lawrence Jackson lays his game down flat and provides the most wonderful and illuminating portrait of Himes that we are likely to get.
I turn fifty this year—a distinction I share with The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the famed Summer of Love… and the Six Day War that brought victory to the state of Israel and began the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights that continues down to this day. Sgt. Pepper holds up well enough, but most fans now prefer Revolver or Rubber Soul; the Summer of Love very quickly turned to the Winter of Discontent in 1968; the Occupation sadly remains the same, a seemingly perpetual trap for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Things to Do when You’re Goth in the Country, opts for a much wider canvas, centering (with one interesting exception) on a broader range of Midwest types, from young lesbians dropping acid in St. Louis to a set of church matrons discussing church business to a jailed, addled druggie musing on blood in the sky.