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Sag Harbor

3.34 of 5 stars 3.34  ·  rating details  ·  3,551 ratings  ·  709 reviews
The warm, funny, and supremely original new novel from one of the most acclaimed writers in America

The year is 1985. Benji Cooper is one of the only black students at an elite prep school in Manhattan. He spends his falls and winters going to roller-disco bar mitzvahs, playing too much Dungeons and Dragons, and trying to catch glimpses of nudity on late-night cable TV. Aft
Hardcover, 273 pages
Published April 28th 2009 by Doubleday (first published 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Glenn Sumi
This was the perfect book to read in late summer, as well as a nice introduction to the writing of Colson Whitehead. It’s more like a 4.5 star book, but I’m rounding up because the writing is so good and the author captures this era so effectively. I’m definitely going to read more by him.

It’s the summer of 1985 and 15-year-old Benji is, as usual, at his family’s place on the eponymous Sag Harbor, a small village in the Hamptons populated during the season by upper-middle class, professional Afr
Colson Whitehead is one shit-describin' motherfucker.
It's been a couple years since I read this, but this book still brings back memories every time I see it, and I felt it was time to come back and give it a proper review.

Since I was 3 years old, my family has owned a cottage on Lake Erie, in a resort community near Cedar Point. We stay there every summer for at least one full week, plus a dozen weekends, and are always joined by a bounty of friends and family. It has always been a place I will treasure, and holds many fond memories. Of all the b
Colson Whitehead is a wonderful writer. Although I wasn't a Sag Harbor summer kid myself, the author and I are about the same age so much of his reminiscing about his experiences as a 15 year old stirred similar memories I possess. Sag Harbor is a work of fiction, not a memoir, but it reads as much like the latter than as a novel, and no doubt it was largely inspired by the author's youthful days. Not a whole lot happens in Sag Harbor, basically a group of teenagers kill the abundance of time th ...more
I'm glad I read this book in the dead of winter - it is so evocative of the atmosphere of a little beach town and of a kid's experience of coming of age during the long, restless and wondrous days of summer. Though the novel focuses primarily on Benji's coming of age in an upper middle class African American community, so many of his experiences and the themes in the book cross race lines, and Whitehead makes Benji's experiences feel almost universal. This novel presents the complex and delicate ...more

I'd be the first acknowledge that Colson Whitehead's style is a tough sell for most readers. He's got a detatched, wordy aloofness, and a meandering stream-of-conscious quality that might alienate some, bore others. I contend, though, he's certainly worth reading if you're like me and appreciate authors in love with the English language. He completely wowed me with 2011's Zombie-story-for-people-that-don't-like-zombie-stories: Zone One. Mr. Whitehead's meandering iciness contributed wonderfully
Elizabeth Owosina
I couldn't get into it. Text just kept going on and on and on. Ugh! Put it down after 40 pages.
Madeline Knight-Dixon
This book is… unexpected. When I began it, I thought it was a traditional coming of age story; there would be a challenge, a test of some sort, that the main character would have to get through in order to have grown into a new person by the end of the summer. But that’s not what this book is. It is simply a novel that recounts the summer of a teenage boy. It’s warm, sweet, at times a little sad but mostly as carefree as summer nights are.

Of course it is about Sag Harbor, the Hamptons for upper-
Karen Miller

For all those who thought – like me – that the Hamptons was simply the summer playground for the rich and beautiful, Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead may come as a surprise. It seems that upper-middle class African-Americans have owned summer homes there since the 1940s.

And in 1985 15-year-old Benji summered there for his 15th year. Only for the first time he’s pretty much on his own since his parents have decided that he and his younger brother are old enough to hold down the home front, while
Oct 18, 2010 Alan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Grown-ups
Recommended to Alan by: Roberta; previous work
Dag... I really liked this hyperrealistic hybrid between autobiography and fiction (from its internal consistency and from the author's Acknowledgements, it seems likely that much of the background and many of the events were drawn from his own growing up). It begins at the intersection of two alien worlds—alien to me, anyway. The first: growing up black in America. The second: growing up wealthy—or affluent, well-to-do, at worst upper middle-class... definitions differ, but families who live in ...more
Colson Whitehead's coming-of-age novel "Sag Harbor" defies the conventional definition of novel in that it doesn't have one of those pesky plots weighing it down. This is something a reader should understand before reading to avoid all sorts of failed Aha! moments: Nope. This isn't going to be about an 80s child, fatally wounded in a BB gun fight. Nope. This isn't going to be about coveting thy friend's summer girlfriend.

Whitehead admits this himself in his video pitch: "There's no dead body,"
When you pick up most writers, you know know exactly what you're going to get -- Tolstoy reads like Tolstoy, "Faulknerian" is an adjective for a reason, Rushdie's novels all share similarities (other than the fact that the most recent ones all suck), and De Lillo has such a strong style that he now borders on self-parody.

Which is what makes Colson Whitehead perhaps the most impressive author writing today. Not only are every one of his books equally fantastic, but each novel bears almost no styl
Mistinguette Smith
This is the book for people who want to say they read Colson Whitehead but don't want to read anything difficult or experimental. This book is
recalls in excruciating adolescent detail, the summertime lives of a group of high school aged African American middle class boys. And I do mean rendered in excruciating detail. Sag Harbor is getting great press, probably because there are still folks who are surprised to learn that there are middle class black people who summer in the Hamptons, too. The
Ron Charles
No one writes with more acrobatic imagination and good humor about the complexities of race in America than Colson Whitehead. In "The Intuitionist" and "John Henry Days," he evoked the nation's racial history as deftly as he created bizarre alternatives. And in his 2003 paean to his home town, "The Colossus of New York," he captured the choreography of a vibrant, multicultural city. Now he surprises us again with a charming autobiographical novel that comes honey-glazed with nostalgia. Detailing ...more
At one point in American author Colson Whitehead's fourth novel, the 15-year-old protagonist Benji succinctly sums up the strangeness of his social circle: "According to the world, we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses."

The year is 1985, more than two decades before the Obamas would step into the White House as America's First Family. Then, as now, spending summer vacations in your family's beach house on Long Island was something strongly associated with WASPs (White A
Aug 20, 2009 Ray rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: buy
I am not as big a fan of speculative/alternate reality stuff as some of my nearest and dearest though I did quite like the Intuitionist. However a straight piece of fiction by Whitehead seemed just the ticket.

And at first I was way down with this book. Loved the early-80s hip-hop nostalgia, beach town, gangs of boy friends, middle-class talented-tenth black folks, etc.

And then it got to be too much. Too memoiry, too detailed. It was sort of like hanging out with that group of boys who constantl
I was going to give this book 3 stars because there are parts I liked and parts that were only ok, so it seemed to average out to 3 stars. But in the last 10 pages there is a reflection on growing up that was so well done that it pulled me to 4 stars. Overall, this is good read about being a teenager, trying to find your place in the world and understanding how things work. This theme was made more compelling by the narrator's specific circumstances, i.e. as a middle class African American spend ...more
Robin Nicholas
This is the story of a 1985 upper-middle class, private school goin', bauhaus listenin', d&d playin', black kid who spends his summers in Sag Harbor in the house his family has had for three generations. This author does an AMAZING job of setting the scene. His use of the language/slang, music/lyrics, styles, and feeling of the times puts you IN 1985. Whitehead's ability to set the scene and create an atmosphere is one of the best I have read. BUT.....nothing happens! I was completely there. ...more
I related to this book – even though my family never “summered” anywhere, and I’m not black, and I’m not a male. I related because, like narrator Benji and his friends, I know the word “dag.” If this expression is not in your vocabulary, hear it not as the clipped sound as if it rhymed with “bag”; it’s more like saying “dang” with a stuffy nose, and with a slight lilt to the a, drawing it out with a vocal inflection down.

“Dag” is usually followed by “that’s cold” (as in, you got served, that’s
This book captivated me completely, forcing involuntary and often embarrassingly loud bursts of laughter out of me in inappropriate places across the NY tri-state area, my shame mitigated by the anticipation of yet another entertaining passage. The novel follows Whitehead as he fondly remembers blissfully long summers-surprisingly bereft of parental supervision-at his family's beach house in Long Island, drinking Coke, eating Swanson TV dinners, and swigging Bartles & Jaymes, relics of the n ...more
The writing in this fictionalized memoir of one teen's summer in the black bourgeois enclave of Sag Harbor is superb. Spot on observations of race, class and family relations are expertly woven through the time-honored experiences of summer jobs, first kisses and beach barbecues. My favorite sections detailed the narrator's experience working at the local ice cream shop, an ill-fated bb gun war between friends, and a tension-filled family dinner that almost erupted into violence due to the tempe ...more
Why do I think this is more autobiographical than novelistic? Whitehead's book is the perfect summer read. My boyhood memories of summer at the beach are of a Padre Island that probably no longer exists with vast stretches of deserted beaches populated only with sand dollars, Scotch bonnets, moon snails, and other prizes tossed up by the Gulf of Mexico. Coyotes roamed the dunes behind the beach, with the only people in evidence being the occasional solitary angler casting in the surf or the arti ...more
Mocha Girl
Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead's last novel, is a delightful romp down memory lane; specifically, his adolescent summers at Sag Harbor, NY -- a beachfront retreat from the city where his brother and he broke out of their "Cosby Kid" existence for a few carefree months. On the surface, it is a reflection of the coming-of-age awkwardness and dilemmas that come with a boy's life: dating/girls, clothing, fitting in, parties (particularly getting into them), and establishing his own identity amid the p ...more
Sag Harbor is Whitehead’s fourth novel and not his best, though it does have its moments and displays his elegant prose style throughout. A coming of age tale, Sag Harbor is set in 1980s when the book’s narrator, Benjie Cooper and his family spend their summers in this Long Island beach community, escaping Manhattan’s sultry, oppressive weather. Azurest is part of an African-American enclave in Sag Harbor, middle class but apart still. Whitehead’s protagonist is just an ordinary teen growing up ...more
This was my week for books with adolescent narrators. Of the three (The Magicians, Swimming and this one), this one is by far the best. I tried reading Apex Hides the Hurt by this author and found it v. gimmicky, but I am glad I read this book. It presents the realities of middle class black life in the 1980s v. vividly (in that is v. reminiscent of Stephen Carter books), and is a great portait of a boy on the verge of adolescence. The protagonist is the only black child in a prestigeous private ...more
I really liked this book, but some of it has to do with my shared experience with the protagonist (and author) of moving to a summer resort community for the season. The excitement that exists in the beginning of the summer of "getting out to Sag" (or getting down the shore for me) and the impending doom of fall and the return of your regular life, were sentiments that I not only relate to, but lived through for the first 21 years of my life. Also, in the ending, the author explores how the peop ...more
Laura de Leon
This book is a wonderfully written coming of age novel. The main character is Benji, a 15 year old upper middle class black kid. He and his younger brother Reggie are spending the summer mostly unsupervised at their parents beach house in Sag Harbor.

The author does a very good job in evoking the time period of 1985. For me, the book was a contrast of the familiar and foreign-- I remember new coke and the fashions, but beach houses and the art of an afro were new to me. I understand family confli
Izetta Autumn
I have to read Colson Whitehead very carefully. Exceptionally so. Because at some point, I may loose control, and in a voracious bout of giddy reading, I will read his entire ouevre, and end up trapped in the no reader's land of waiting for another bite from this literary virtuoso.

This has happened to me before. Most notably with Edward P. Jones and Zadie Smith. Writers who have transported me, made me feel deeply, had me sitting for hours captured in the sway of their world, only to strand me
I was a little nervous that Sag Harbor would be the one Colson Whitehead book that sucked and that it would spoil me on him before I got a chance to read any of his really good stuff, but I'm happy to report that I really enjoyed it. Part of it definitely stems from my East Coast nostalgia, but I think the lion's share comes from Whitehead's controlled, evocative and never sentimental prose. It took me longer to finish this novel than I would've liked, but that's because each sentence was so wel ...more
Colson Whitehead refers to Sag Harboras his "autobiographical fourth novel". In this coming of age tale, Whitehead tells us about Benji, an upper middle class African American teenager who lives in New York with his family. His parents are a doctor and a lawyer. It's 1985 and Benji can't help comparing his family to the Huxtibles on the Cosby Show. Benji and his younger brother Reggie spend the entire summer of 1985 at their family's summer house in Sag Harbor. Most of the time the boys are left ...more
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Colson Whitehead was born in 1969, and was raised in Manhattan. After graduating from Harvard College, he started working at the Village Voice, where he wrote reviews of television, books, and music.

His first novel, The Intuitionist, concerned intrigue in the Department of Elevator Inspectors, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway and a winner of the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Awa
More about Colson Whitehead...
Zone One The Intuitionist John Henry Days Apex Hides the Hurt The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death

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“As time went on, we learned to arm ourselves in our different ways. Some of us with real guns, some of us with more ephemeral weapons, an idea or improbable plan or some sort of formulation about how best to move through the world. An idea that will let us be. Protect us and keep us safe. But a weapon nonetheless.” 17 likes
“Two people, two hands, and two songs, in this case "Big Shot" and "Bette Davis Eyes." The lyrics of the two songs provided no commentary, honest or ironic, on the proceedings. They were merely there and always underfoot, the insistent gray muck that was pop culture. It stuck to our shoes and we tracked it through our lives.” 6 likes
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