Book Review: We Cast a Shadow: A Novel
Publication Date: Jan 29, 2019
List Price: $27.00
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Imprint: One World
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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Book Reviewed by Tony Lindsay
In Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s first novel, We Cast a Shadow, the reader meets a complex and unnamed protagonist. The main character of this futuristic novel is an educated attorney who is “woke” to the restraints of American racism, but despite his tuned-in Black consciousness, he believes the capitalist arena is the best choice for any American. And for the majority of his life, he struggles to become a successful Black man in that environment.
When the attorney is introduced, the reader encounters a Black man who has internalized white supremacy to a psychological deficit. This consumption affects the attorney, his son, and his wife. The family lives in a society where “demelanization,” lip thinning, hair processing, nose restructuring, and eye coloring are done to emulate the rich white Americans. The attorney’s acceptance of white supremacy is the norm for those seeking to climb the ladder of success.
Ruffin has created a futuristic “Uncle Tom” that possesses attributes and beliefs that will leave readers either enlightened or insulted — due to his masterful use of satire. The attorney’s actions will be interpreted as “Uncle Tom” behavior or clever career moves. African American readers may find themselves asking “would I do that” or “have I done that” or “do I think that”. Ruffin’s book doesn’t stop at thought provoking scenes.
The created attorney is in turmoil due to his Black awareness. He knows his actions and those with goals similar to his are subservient, but those who are not climbing the ladder of success have so little. He is completely conscious of what his actions cost and what could be gained by them. The effects of accepting white supremacy: drug usage, powerlessness, horrible parental relationships, and irrational fear appear worth the monetary gain.
However, Ruffin has the effects denying the attorney peace. He finds no peace in any of his successes: there is no peace found in his gradual change from brown skin to pink skin, there is no peace when he searches the earth for his son and finds him forgiving but not forgetful, there is no peace in corporate success that leaves him wanting, there is no peace in his attempt to re-establish a relationship with his own father only to arrive too late, and there is no peace when he discovers that the only place he belongs is with the family he destroyed. Ruffin does allow him to find some peace when he escapes the capitalist arena and loses the false imagery of prescribed Western beauty. We Cast a Shadow is an unsettling read with laugh out loud moments and silent tear wiping moments.