Notes of a Native Son (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – Import, 2 November 2017
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Powerful . . . I wish I could press this book into the hands of every American - actually, every human. -- Celeste Ng, Guardian
Edgy and provocative . . . entertainingly satirical -- Robert McCrum, Guardian
A classic . . . Take the words out of the 1950s, when they were published, and they could apply to the women in pink hats, the scientists, the Black Lives Matter activists, the climate-change believers and the LGBTQ-rights supporters who have flooded the streets of Washington this year, Washington Post
A classic ... In a divided America, James Baldwin's fiery critiques reverberate anew, Washington Post
Cemented his reputation as a cultural seer ... Notes of a Native Son endures as his defining work, and his greatest, Time
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- Item Weight : 157 g
- Paperback : 208 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0241334004
- ISBN-13 : 978-0241334003
- Product Dimensions : 19.8 x 1.2 x 12.9 cm
- Publisher : Penguin Classics (2 November 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #30,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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So, what is it about? Well, within the subjects such as the portrayal of the Negro in art (e.g. Uncle Tom’s Cabin), his relationship with his father and his experiences of living in Paris, I think the overarching subject is the alienation felt by the American Negro. This alienation has two key elements; the power of the white man over the black man throughout society, and more interestingly to me, the loss of ancestral heritage through being the children of slaves taken from Africa (at the point of being sold their personal history was lost/discarded).
I did sometimes have an issue with his tendency to make (unsubstantiated?) sweeping generalisations to make his point. In fairness this may be due to his relatively young age (low thirties), but I did find his position was rather let down with claims such as:
“the French are the earth’s least sentimental people and must also be numbered among the most proud …” (from Equal in Paris)
“the white man prefers to keep the black man at a certain human remove because it is easier for him thus to preserve his simplicity and avoid being called to account for crimes committed by his forefathers, or neighbours”.
I also found the book to be unremittingly bleak. If you accept the role of a writer like Baldwin is to provide insights into society, then, when this reflection is so awful I think he also needs to suggest ways of improvement or to offer reasons for hope. On finishing this book, I was left somewhat deflated.
However, setting aside these reservations, Baldwin is undoubtedly a powerfully provocative writer who everyone ought to read if they have any interest in todays' multi-cultural society. I suspect a number of his observations on the Negro in the 1950’s can be applied to today’s disadvantaged minorities in general.