Book Review: Harlem Redux: A Novel
Publication Date: May 28, 2002
List Price: $54.00 (store prices may vary)
Page Count: 320
Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Parent Company: CBS Corporation
Book Reviewed by Thumper
Persia Walker busts on the literary scene burnin' rubber and smokin' with her debut novel, Harlem Redux, a multi-faceted fictional tapestry. Harlem Redux is an absorbing history lesson, an intriguing mystery, and a leisurely review of 1920's Harlem society -- the decade in which Langston Hughes stated, "the Negro was in vogue". This engrossing and stylish novel also serves as an introduction to Persia Walker, an exciting new voice in literature.
David McKay returns to his Harlem home, after a four-year
self-imposed exile, upon learning of his sister Lilian's suicide. David is not
willing to accept the party line that his sister died by her own hand. He is
soon confronted with secrets that rise from the darkness like nightmares. David
must also determine what role the sudden appearance and subsequent disappearance
of Lilian's twin Gem, played in her death. In discovering the circumstances
behind Lilian's death, David comes face to face with a few secrets of his own. A
writer once said, "O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to
deceive", and in David's case, the web is being fashioned as a noose, drawing
tightly around his neck.
Harlem Redux is a wonderful novel. I was mesmerized by it. The book began with an explosive prologue. I was hooked immediately. But, as the prologue ended and gave way to the story, I started to wiggle off the hook a bit. I kept reading, hoping the story would quicken its stride and gather a full head of steam. It did. The tale became a runaway train about to jump the tracks.
I admire how Walker incorporated historical figures and places throughout the tale. Walker brought to life a 1920s Harlem that I could previously only imagine. While reading Harlem Redux I could almost breathe in the scents of the sitting parlors where the high and mighty of Harlem society served as living embodiments of DuBois's Talented Tenth theory. In addition, Walker provided an excellent description of a lynching that actually occurred. (This passage dovetails the portraits that author Phillip Dray deftly painted in his excellent chronicle of lynching in America, At The Hands of Persons Unknown. The imagery from this book continues to hover around me like a mist many months after I finished reading it.)
All of the characters are nicely developed with David McKay being extremely likable and immediately sympathetic. He was interesting, complex, and possessed a displaced soul, which led him to try to achieve small noble victories through ignoble actions. I couldn't help but cheer for him. The supporting cast was appealing enough, but did not deflect my attention from David. Gem was fascinating and I would have loved to learn more about her life in Europe. Lilian emerged as the most complex character in the novel. There were storms raging inside of her that were worthy of a novel of their own.
The mystery behind Lilian's death was a damn good one, possessing plenty of twists and turns. When I read mysteries, I am able to guess the identity of the culprit within the first 50 pages. In Harlem Redux, I took a stab at detecting the resolution around page 100 and got it half right. Considering how the final outcome evolved, I was right proud of myself for the portion I correctly concluded. Harlem Redux yanked the wool over my eyes. Usually, I'm not easily duped. I tip my hat to Walker for job well done.
The ending of Harlem Redux was a happy one, but came a little too fast and neat. I was left to wonder how David quickly got out of a perilous situation. I could not fathom how an incriminating piece of evidence, essential to establishing the story's conclusion, was uncovered, given the primitive technology and police procedures of the 1920s. While this one slip might have served as a "pea under my mattress" to minimize my enthusiasm for this novel, I assure you, my enjoyment and complete satisfaction with this novel remains firmly intact.
Harlem Redux is a pip of a novel, classy, smart, and fascinating. It is destined to be one of the most talked about books of 2002. I adored it.