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Brothers and Keepers: A Memoir

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3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  463 ratings  ·  43 reviews
A haunting portrait of lives arriving at different destinies, Brothers and Keepers is John Edgar Wideman’s seminal memoir about two brothers — one an award-winning novelist, the other a fugitive wanted for robbery and murder. Wideman recalls the capture of his younger brother Robby, details the subsequent trials that resulted in a sentence of life in prison, and provides v ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 26th 2005 by Mariner Books (first published 1984)
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Emma
Ahh, I'm torn about this book. It might be four stars.

I liked the way the voices of the two brothers went in and out, and I liked the way Wideman used the structure to question his own decisions and perspective as a writer, interviewer, storyteller, brother, husband, prison visitor. In general, I found the dialogue between the two voices to be thoughtful and illuminating. And, unlike Philadelphia Fire, I felt like I mostly understood what was going on. Which is certainly a plus.

On the other hand
...more
Benjamin Vu
I read this book for an assignment for my English class. The book probed my interest at first, but was unable to fully capture it and I set the book down to be read later. When I picked it up again, I found myself connecting with John and began to develop a sense of what it was like to pass through those walls every visit. I appreciated Robby's part of the story because I could sympathize with him and his perspective created conflicting emotions between what John felt about him and what I, the r ...more
Vincent
This was a really good book. I liked it alot. Very different than anything I have ever read. The authors brother is serving a life sentence in prison for his part in a botched robbery of people who they were fencing hot TV's too. Although the brother was not the trigger man he still recieved a life sentence. The author who is ten years older and was not close to his younger brother writes the book with his brother to determine how their paths differed and where the decisions were made to go diff ...more
Erika Albinson
Wideman's writing is so descriptive and so vivid, I felt transported back to 1975. He painted the painful situation of his brother's time in jail so intensely, I had to do some further research on whether Robby got out. Unfortunately, he is still incarcerated and has been partitioning for a pardon for many years. I really enjoyed this memoir. Tragedy did not end with Robby being in prison, John Wideman's middle son is also serving life sentence for a 1985 murder. I would like to read some of Wid ...more
Karon Luddy
May 20, 2004
Karon Luddy

“The frame through which I viewed the world changed too, with time. Greater than scene, I came to see is situation. Greater than situation is implication. Greater than all these is a single, entire human being, who will never be confined in any frame”
Eudora Welty

This is a memoir of two brothers, one behind real bars and the other behind unreal bars. It’s both a ballet and an opera—or perhaps a long blues song with intermittent tap dancing. It’s a theatrical shuck and jiv
...more
Roslinda
Although I have a special place in my heart for this author (he's from Pittsburgh), Brothers and Keepers is a beautifully written memoir nonetheless. Mr. Wideman offers a thoughtful account of his family and his relationship with his brother Robby...a story of two brothers who come from the same family, same background, but take two very different paths. I can put this one down and read it again two years later...it never gets old!
Terrell
Wideman told the story of his brother Robby who has spent years in prison for murder. Of course John was an intricate part of the book, being that he was the author. At the on set, John said "I felt much more confident borrowing narrative techniques learned from fiction than employing a tape recorder" (ix). That is while talking with his brother.John and Robby exchanged discourses while the former visited his brother in prison. One such technique would be John writing as Robby, from the first-pe ...more
Lisa Sheffield
Reading this for our Let's Talk About It group. Looks a bit grim, but it is a memoir, not fiction like the other books in the series. Update - I am really glad i read this. It isn't a book i would have picked up to read and it certainly gives you a look at a slice of life that I am not at all familiar with. It is the story of brothers -- one well educated, successful and a man who "got out" and the other, the youngest, had a complex about living up to the success of his older brother and other s ...more
Brian
The story of two brothers one of whom was part of a robbery that killed a man and is serving a life sentence. The good brother is a professor and loves taking purple flights of over intellectualizing everything. The first part of the novel crawls along as the good brother (the author) sets how anguished and conflicted and blah blah blah he is. The middle moves along because the bad brother tells the story who thankfully uses a lot less adjectives and a lot more verbs. This part of the story cook ...more
Susan Katz
This probing exploration of how the same family situation could produce both a noted scholar/author and a prisoner involved in a robbery-turned-murder presents much of its material from the viewpoint of Robby, the brother in prison. The book provides psychological insight as well as an indictment not only of the prison system but of the social conditions of poverty and racism which feed that system. For Robby crime was to some extent his way of living life on his own terms, the terms of the stre ...more
tai
while knowing that i could not write as well, i am nonetheless not thrilled with Wideman's writing style, all his wee repetitive sentences. the book was first worse than i expected then better than the worsening led me to expect, like an uneven U shape. i wanted more. it did a good job of making prison real and physical beyond the stereotypes, making me neither pity nor respect the brother, though in some parts the lamentations seemed excessive-- he did kill someone, so is he proposing no punish ...more
Ally Armistead
Why did I not discover John Edgar Wideman sooner? Wow: "Brothers and Keepers" is haunting, searing, and one of the most wonderful memoirs I've ever read. In "Brothers," Wideman revisits the incarceration of his younger brother, the pain, the misunderstanding, and, at its root, a lingering discrimination in this country.

What is most moving--to this reader--is Wideman's brutal honesty, including his own discomfort with his brother, with visiting him in prison, and with--at its heart--finding a way
...more
Patrick
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Jahmila Smith
At first this book started off slow for me, and it took me awhile to really get into it. I really loved this book once I started reading Robby's part, and his breakdown of what happened that led to the murder. I kind of sympathized with him the entire book and towards the end of the book you definitely felt a sense of growth that had occurred within him. Johns part wasn't my favorite, but it was nice to get his input about how he was feeling and the constant battle he was facing, a conflict betw ...more
Masked
wideman's language is so easy on a reader, but the words carry so much with them. he tells you about his brother and who they are to one another and how they got that way. but he's a professor and a black man married to a white woman and a father living in the northwest while his brother is in prison for a killing back on the east coast so it's not just some professorial memoir. wideman explores what it means to be who he is, what he represents to others and how he and his brother came from the ...more
Kathryn Linder
I read this book for a class on race narratives and the legal system. I liked the part of the book that talks about the relationship between the two brothers, but I disliked the parts where the author is openly sexist. If you do read this, make sure you contextualize it by googling the author. Further narratives of his family shed more light on his comments in this books about the difference between himself, a college professor, and his brother, a prisoner on death row.
Jack Spicer
Jun 07, 2007 Jack Spicer rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
As i read this book I learned that this book is manily about one brother goes down the wrong path and the other has not. The one hasn't tries to help out the one who goes down the wrong path and it is a struggle for both to understand because so many problems come their way. So through the whole book they have to overcome the things that happen and not stop to think what happen in the past.
Rae Hittinger
This book is very compelling and gives me some insight into the public schools where I teach. A true story of two brothers, one an author and professor, the other spending a life sentence in prison for robbery and murder. There are some parts where I wish the author didn't talk abotu his inner motives so much, and I question his ability to be truly objective in writing this book.
Gconnolly
This is an autobiographical account of the life of John Edgar Wideman growing up in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. It also chronicles the story of John's brother, Robert, who is serving a jail sentence for a murder committed during a botched robbery attempt. Interesting how siblings growing up under same circumstances can turn out so opposite. Good character study.
Elizabeth
Dec 16, 2008 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Amy
Wideman's brother has a life sentence having been convicted of a killing in connection with a robbery. It's a fascinating story of two brothers raised in Homewood and East Pittsburgh - John Wideman ends up a prizewinning author and poet and respected professor, his brother incarcerated. Sadly, Wideman's own son ends up in prison (subject of another book I believe).
Jennifer Ciotta
Wideman does some great writing here. His brother Robby, serving a life sentence, contributes some great writing too. Educated black man vs. street black man. The two points of view worked well together. I had a problem with Wideman referring to his brother as courageous in certain parts. But overall, it is a deeply personal look into prison life.
henry
anna, if you're interested in more prison reading, this book is great. a true story, one brother is j. e. wideman, renowned author and professor, the other brother is doing a life sentence for murder. the book traces how they took such different paths, and the effects of the judicial system on inmates from a very interesting perspective.
Martine
We are responsible for the choices we make, and at times we are troubled by the choices made by those we love. J.E. Wideman describes choices he and his brother made, and the consequences and responsibilities associated with their actions.
Lawrence
A chilling account of the brother (the black sheep) that ignored inspiration and took to the streets. That is not really true. It is story as timeless as Jekyll and Hyde. Sideman transforms into the brother who is absorbed by drugs.
Frank
This multilayered memoir, published some thirty years ago, puts a vivid first-person face on the issue of mass incarceration and the inhumanity of America's failed prison system. I need to read more of Wideman's work.
Sam
Mar 12, 2011 Sam added it
About visiting his brother who was locked up for murder. HEAVY. Necessary reading. The US locks up 2 million of its own citizenry, an enormous percentage relative to other advanced industrialized nations.
Pia
Jan 09, 2008 Pia added it
Wideman, whose Brother Robbie is in prison for murder, has invoked his own hauntings over the loss of his brother in his fiction, but this book addresses his relationship with his brother in memoir.
Shonda
I really wanted to like this one because of the concept behind this book. I think the subject matter is very interesting. Just wish hoighty-toighty college professor John Edgar Wideman could be.
Jim Mccullough
I found the stories about the brother interesting and enjoyable. Too much time was spent on discussing what the author "had to go through". This book was too self-serving.
Carla3000
Aug 20, 2008 Carla3000 rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Carla3000 by: Josh
I'm still not sure how I feel about memoirs...Social science writing has tapped all creativity from my spirit.
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A widely-celebrated writer and the winner of many literary awards, he is the first to win the International PEN/Faulkner Award twice: in 1984 for Sent for You Yesterday and in 1990 for Philadelphia Fire. In 2000 he won the O. Henry Award for his short story "Weight", published in The Callaloo Journal.

In March, 2010, he self-published "Briefs," a new collection of microstories, on Lulu.com. Stories
...more
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