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Cane

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  4,259 ratings  ·  218 reviews
A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt str...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published August 17th 1993 by Liveright (first published January 1st 1923)
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Community Reviews

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Erik Simon
What a stunning work of literature, and shame on me for taking so long to get to it. Check out this prose: "Night, soft belly of a pregnant Negress, throbs evenly against the torso of the South. Night throbs a womb-song to the South, cane- and cotton-fields, pine forests, cypress swamps, sawmills and factories are fecund at her touch. Night's womb-song sets them singing. Night winds are the breathing of the unborn child whose calm throbbing in the belly of a Negress sets them somnolently singing...more
Elisa Berry
This one is a gem; the writing is gorgeous, the stories absorbing. P-thought of you, this is a definite genre bender with episodic chapters/short stories and poetry, always referred to as a novel. Toomer is often grouped with the Harlem Renaissance and the stories center on the reverse migration of a urban Northern man to the rural South. However, Toomer never worked with black themes again and did not consider himself part of that community. As such the book exhibits a fractured experience and...more
Andrew
This was a thoroughly strange and surreal book, made all the more surreal by the fact that it was one of the first avant-garde black American novels. Toomer's world explodes with color and light, with shades of Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson. If there is a document of American magical realism, this is it.

It's too easy when describing the rural black South to rely on stereotypes and minstrelsy (Zora Neale Hurston, I'm looking at you). Toomer, to his credit, doesn't, at all. His world is too damn...more
Newengland
Though not as well known as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer is considered one of the shining stars of the Harlem Renaissance and this collection of short stories and poems is his best work. Published in the early 20's, it shows the influence of many writers of that period who were especially fascinated with the technique of repetition -- sentences, clauses, phrases, words, you name it. It's a tricky skill, as repetition can be both effective and annoying. Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, in...more
Maureen
Jul 29, 2008 Maureen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Toomer had an interesting pedigree: he was considered a Northerner by many Southerners, and a Southerner by many Northerners. This in part is because both of his grandmother were left plantations by white men, making them among the most prosperous citizens in the dirt poor communities around Sparta, Georgia. Toomer spent some summers with his grandmothers during childhood, and even was the principal of a school in Sparta for a short time before leaving for Paris.

From this perspective, he wrote...more
No Books
Un capolavoro assoluto, un'opera unica in quello che forse fu il decennio d'oro della narrativa statunitense; qui pubblicato in un'ottima edizione.
Dicono sia fuori catalogo; ma se vi capita di averlo per le mani (biblioteche, bancarelle, prestiti, furti...) questo è un libro che vale assolutamente la pena di leggere.

Nathan Eugene "Jean" Toomer, nipote per parte di madre del primo governatore di colore della Louisiana (che guardacaso fino a quel punto si era dichiarato bianco), passò infanzia e g...more
Mark
It's so difficult to categorize Cane. For the sake of convenience, one could call it a novel, and that is generally how the work is treated. But novel really neither describes the book accurately nor does it justice. Cane is an incantory combination of poetry and prose, vignettes that are loosely held together by the common theme of black American life in rural Georgia at the turn of the twentieth century. But the prose is highly poetic:

"Pine needles, like mazda, are brilliantly aglow. No rain...more
Pierce
Mairin gave me this after I expressed some tiredness with the lack of artistry in some of what I've been reading lately. And yes, it was very powerfully and beautifully written.

Harlem Renaissance is a new area for me. There's this wonderful naturalness and earthiness to the writing. It's odd, because my first thought was that these people are not of this land, and have been forcibly located here only a few generations earlier, and yet there is a deep harmony with the place they occupy, if not t...more
Emilie
"Some critics called the book a novel, some called it a prose poem, some did not know what to call it; but all agreed that Cane was origional" Alice Walker, quoted in Cane page 261

That's pretty much all I can say about this book. And it's said by someone else. I went ahead and borrowed it at the library because I had a lot of books on my "borrow-at-the-library" list. I went on Random.org and this was the book randomly chosen for me.

It was an interesting read, but I could have skipped all the ext...more
John
Cane is a mixture of verse, prose, and drama, making it a challenging collection to read. Most of Toomer's pieces are set in the South, though he also writes about Chicago and D. C. Toomer's focus in this collection was on alienation - between races, sexes, and largely any two people who happen to come together. The stories and poems reflect much of the alienation Toomer felt as an African-American who was light-skinned enough to pass for white, but also the alienation of African-Americans from...more
Abby
“Cane” blew me away. Southern literature, in my opinion, contains some of the most powerful and immortal books in the American literary canon. The dark, enchanted history of the South brings forth ample material for colorful characters and complex social issues. Novels born in the South are born out of and into its troubled past–a landscape fraught with the difficult union of charmed myth and bloody reality. Toomer taps into the tragic legacy of slavery to write one of the best, most enduring no...more
Lara
Aug 04, 2007 Lara rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
I read this for the first time as an undergrad. It didn't appeal to me then, but this time 'round, things were a bit more clear. I think that the most important issue this novel touches is that of identity. For Toomer himself, this was a huge problem. We see this come to the surface in many (if not all) of his character sketches.

The jagged style of writing is a bit confusing for many, but for your students, relate it to the movements of jazz music and the lights turn on.

This is a stunning exampl...more
anne
I only ended up reading "Cane," not the reviews and criticisms (except for the intro and the first essay, which i think was an intro to an early edition), though I'd like to go back and read them sometime. I definitely had a fuller view of the work's context from the little I did read about Toomer's life and ideas. With or without the essays, a beautiful and interesting book (these words seem too totally positive for conveying the complexity of the book and its depictions and examinations of str...more
Matt
Beautiful, lyrical, complex, maddening, amazing. You feel like you can taste the dust, the blood, and the music of the rural South after reading it. This is one of the "masterpieces" of the Harlem Renaissance. The interesting metaphor of "dusk" recurs in parallel with the northward migration of blacks during Reconstruction and the loss of indigenous life and music. This book is experimental in terms of genre-blending (including poetry, short story, factual narrative, etc.) in way that gets one t...more
Nascha
An unforgettable gem from the Harlem Renaissance era. Breathtakingly beautiful in his descriptions, Toomer broke the boundaries of the traditional novel or book at that time by including vignettes, poetry and a play within this book. Toomer is one of the best writers of that era but not as well known. This book is still touted in literary circles and influences some of the great writers of our time, including Toni Morrison. I highly recommend it.
Christopher Sutch
Jean Toomer's vivid, original poetic imagery, and the genius he displays in how he shaped and arranged the materials (short stories, poems, drama) that make up this brilliant avant-garde novel still blow my mind twenty years after I first read it. Looking back at this work nearly 100 years after its first publication, you can see the affect of modernism on Toomer's text; he clearly had been influenced by Joyce's early work, but he anticipates some of Faulkner's, Hemingway's, and Dos Passos's for...more
Katie Stout
More like 4 1/2 stars, but I'll round up just because I haven't rated any books 5 stars this year yet.

Jean Toomer's Cane really is a "literary masterpiece." I was in awe of his style and form, how he utilizes devices we associate with theater in a novel. I also loved the comparison of the North vs. the South, especially embodied in the last short story, "Kabnis."

I've got to say "The Box Seat" is my favorite story, though, followed closely by "Bona and Paul."

LOVE the Harlem Renaissance!!!
Shanae
My goodness how I disliked this novel - you wouldn't believe...Toomer's style and background were just a bit too complex for me to thoroughly enjoy the novel. Toomer never wrote anything else and I can't say that I'm sad about that - well, I guess that's kind of mean, huh?

Anyway, every African American should read this book, but you won't "enjoy" it...there's something you can learn from this story though.
Alex
A wonderful, magisterial voice - at its best, up there with Whitman - but young and unfinished. It has that explosive, tightrope feel of some early works by brilliant writers. It's known as the first important Black novel of the Harlem Renaissance, which is funny because it's not a novel and Toomer liked to insist he wasn't Black. It's hard to see which he hated and feared the most - women or himself.
Kiesha
Toomer does an extraordinary thing with Cane. Some of the most powerful short stories I've ever come across. And I love the text's untraditional format. However this will be one I'll need to return to in time, just to reexamine and soak up anything missed. Stylistically, clever and unique but can prove challenging to navigate at times which, for me, only makes it all the more fascinating.
Carl
This is a fascinating cross-genre piece. The prose is beautiful, and the poems, especially harvest song, are very moving. I believe The short-stories "Box-Seat" and "Fern" are some of the first stories in American Literature to have black, female characters that are complex and have a sexual power over men. A little uneven at times, but it was his first and only novel.
matt

This is a key piece of Harlem Renaissance proestry and its detailed and eloquent and beautiful and haunting and mellifluous...look it up if you dont believe me! it's a real word! Shut up!
Kim
This is the first book I ever read to Grace. She was born when I was in grad school, and wanting to be a good mom I started reading aloud to her right away.
Chantel
Probably the first book I read that I actually filled with notes about theme, symbolism, and imagery. Soul poetry.
Rich Cabalar
This book was pretty horrid. Didn't hate it, but the lack of flow between characters completely turned me off.
Aine Meehan
This is possibly the most beautifully poignant and lyrical book I have read.
Benny
This book is fascinating, poignant and extremely well composed.

The thing is, it was composed in a fairly atypical, very fragmented and disjointed fashion. There are pages that are utter dynamite and completely hook you, but there are others that are dry and purely symbolic imagery.

I don't mind fragmented, but there is simply not enough compelling connective tissue in this work that allowed me to appreciate it as much as I would have liked.

I can totally see how it's a classic work, it's just not...more
Christine
One of my favorites is Jean Toomer's 'Cane,' which is considered by many to be a principle literary work of the Harlem Renaissance. It is an unusual and innovative text-part drama, part poetry, and part fiction- and this aesthetic structure is extremely appealing to me as a writer. The book is broken into three parts with the first taking place in the South and focusing on six different women who act in ways that are outside of the conventional Christian morality of the time. The second part tak...more
Mely
Classic of the Harlem Renaissance. First heard of via Alice Walker, who adored the pictures of black Georgian farmwomen. The first section is vignettes set in the rural south, the second is slightly longer stories set in the urban south, the third is a single long story with play-like aspects from the perspective of a biracial Northern visitor to a small Southern town (much like Toomer himself). The language is gorgeous and singing in the first two sections, although the actual poems (among the...more
Jocelyn
Dec 28, 2010 Jocelyn marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Suppose I'll read Norton's critical edition (eds. Henry Louis Gates Jr/Robert Byrd) too. Or, eventually. Let's say I'm apprehensive, on many fronts: just reading the New York Times review made my blood run cold. It's only a review. That said, this review suggests intellectual "sloppiness" in service to a race (ha) to the top of the pristine Mountain o' Academe. In other words, inconsistency, license, self-aggrandizement, locked hypothesis disguised as open inquiry & examination of evidence e...more
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Jean Toomer (1894–1967), whose full name was Nathan Eugene Pinchback Toomer, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of educated blacks of Creole stock. Literature was his first love and he regularly contributed avant garde poetry and short stories to such magazines as Dial, Broom, Secession, Double Dealer, and Little Review. After a literary apprenticeship in New York, Toomer taught school in rural...more
More about Jean Toomer...
Collected Poems of Jean Toomer Essentials Cane Toomer, Jean  Jun-13-2011 Paperback Cane(Norton Critical Editions) 2nd (second) edition Text Only The Uncollected Works of American Author Jean Toomer 1894-1967 (Studies in American Literature (Lewiston, N.Y.), V. 58.)

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“If you have heard a Jewish cantor sing, if he has touched you and made your own sorrow seem trivial when compared with his, you will know my feeling when I follow the curves of her profile, like mobile rivers, to their common delta.” 6 likes
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