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Philadelphia Fire

3.47  ·  Rating Details  ·  501 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
From “one of America’s premier writers of fiction” (New York Times) comes this novel inspired by the 1985 police bombing of a West Philadelphia row house owned by the back-to-nature, Afrocentric cult known as Move. The bombing killed eleven people and started a fire that destroyed sixty other houses. At the center of the story is Cudjoe, a writer and exile who returns to h ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published January 26th 2005 by Mariner Books (first published August 1st 1990)
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Sep 22, 2012 Dave rated it it was ok
This should have been a better book. Ostensibly about the police bombing of the MOVE headquarters in West Philly, 1985, Wideman devotes only about 40 pages of the novel to the event and the people involved. There's a rambling take on a production of the The Tempest, a businessman's suicide, rat shooting, and Mykonos, with some solid descriptions of basketball and Philly itself, but after the first few dozen pages Wideman apparently loses interest in his chief topic and then circuitously wanders ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Jan 30, 2016 Nathan "N.R." Gaddis marked it as i-want-money
Shelves: fred-karl
Is this event at all alive in the Political Imagination of US citizens?

Police Terrorism from 1985 ; the bombing of an African=American Community in West Philly--
[this is how the boss tells the story, ie Frontline ; so you might suspect how much deeper it goes....]

The more things Don't Change, the more they stay the same...
Sean Owen
Apr 21, 2015 Sean Owen rated it liked it
"Philadelphia Fire" is an enormously frustrating book. The dust jacket of this book would have you believe that it is a novel about the MOVE incident that occurred in Philadelphia in 1985. In that incident the Philadelphia police firebombed a house occupied by members of a black radical religious group. John Edgar Wideman, a tremendously talented writer from Philadelphia with a keen understanding of issues of race would seem to be ideally suited to take on this topic. Unfortunately the book neve ...more
J. Trott
Nov 21, 2008 J. Trott rated it it was ok
So it is with a heavy heart that I appoint but two stars to this book. It has rhapsodic prose, a few characters I could really see, believe. It is about Philadelphia, and it's children, and it's race issues. It sounds like a book that I would love.

Unfortunately, it has no plot. None whatsoever. You might compare it to Ulysses or a Woolf. However, this particular book starts with a tight one hundred pages of plot. Then the perspective shifts, I believe the voice is actually the author? and then i
I wanted to like this book so much. It was ostensibly about a hideous and important piece of history that too few people know about, which is why I wanted to read it. And it has beautiful, poetic (if sometimes unnecessarily pretentious) writing. If I had read certain bits of it as separate short stories or poems, I would have loved those bits. But all together it just doesn't work. It was all over the place.

There is very little about the actual Move bombing or group in the book. So if you are l
Kat Saunders
Nov 09, 2015 Kat Saunders rated it it was ok
This started out promisingly; I was moved by Wideman's lyricism. However, by Part 2, I realized I didn't truly know or give a crap about any of the characters in this book. If a book is light on plot, there had better be interesting, engaging characters. With the book lacking on the plot and character front, I at least hoped that Wideman would provide me with unique observations or a fresh perspective. Again, I was disappointed. If not for the occasionally beautiful language, this would be a 1 s ...more
Dec 01, 2014 Jess rated it it was ok
I just never quite got a grip on this book. If you're looking to learn a thing or two about the actual 1985 MOVE bombing and fire, I suggest you watch the 2013 documentary Let the Fire Burn, directed by Jason Osder. If I hadn't seen the documentary before reading this book, I wouldn't have any idea what the hell was going on.

Wideman is a skilled writer and his words flow right off the page. At some points I felt like I was reading poetry instead of prose, and I got lost in the words. But I got e
i suppose this book's writing was often brilliant, but i felt like i needed a study group to really digest what was happening. pretty straightforward until the second third of the book, where the plot goes haywire, the author lets the flood gates open and streams of consciousness pour out. it seemed to be written by someone who was experiencing a heavy trip, where paragraph to paragraph, the narrator is at times the lead character and other times the author, (and still other times, new character ...more
Liz Farrington
Feb 26, 2015 Liz Farrington rated it liked it
Shelves: fbc-15
This book is well-written and often gripping (though parts are a little too deliberately "literary"), but I was aghast when I read the actual story of MOVE. I have to admit, I felt ridiculously misled. I know it's a novel and it's not meant to be a reliable narrative, but it definitely unnerved me a bit to know I'd been so immersed in a perspective that consciously served the ends of its political/racial message by skewing the truth-- particularly because the book's structure (e.g. when the auth ...more
Aug 22, 2014 Miriam rated it liked it
I liked the first section very much, and then I thought it lost focus. I think in some ways that was the point, but I thought in the end it didn't cohere.

There was a beautiful quotation about music around page 85. Maybe someday I'll go back and put it in here.

I read The Tempest after this, seeing as how the second section deals with the aborted version of that play that Cudjoe was going to enact with the city kids. I disagree that Prospero's speech to Caliban about how incapable he is of refinem
May 19, 2012 Patrick rated it really liked it
A poignant tale about being a black man in America. Surprisingly, the MOVE fire is not the main thrust of the story. The novel focuses more on the conflicted feelings of the author when he returns to his old neighborhood to investigate the story of the fire. The novel is built around the May 13, 1985 fire that killed 11 people, including children, from the MOVE organization.

The author explores the inner conflict of growing up in the ghetto and living as an adult in a largely white world, as a co
Dec 13, 2008 Sarah rated it did not like it
a book that i really wanted to read. i finished it about a week and a half ago. though i use the term finished lightly. i wanted to book to learn more about the 1985 bombing of the MOVE organization here in philly. it didn't really tell me much at all. it was more about west philly and how it's changed or not changed over the past 40ish years. which is all well and good and something that would interest me. but not the way this book was written. it was very stream of conciousness and jumpy. i co ...more
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner award. IF stream-of-consciousness writing is your thing, take a stab at it. Talk about angry, lost, and alienated. The different voices in this novel about the true May 1985 bombing of radical militant group MOVE's territory in Philadelphia (orchestrated by the mayor and city) shows the repercussions of the unconscionable act within the community. I didn't get where Wideman was going throughout the book and felt lost myself (but maybe that was the point). Read for a bo ...more
Mar 05, 2015 Brandelyn rated it did not like it
this book was so confusing. i understood the intention, but sir... what?
Nov 09, 2011 Jacque rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who has read The Tempest with more than the customary post-colonial appreciation
John Edgar Wideman's work is unparalleled in his generation. His lyrical prose, executed in a virtuoso stylistic range that might fairly be characterized as T. S. Eliot in Trenchtown, serves as a vehicle for searching inquiries into personal identity that have won him two PEN/Faulkner awards. If I could sit down to dinner with one living author, Wideman would be the man.
Matt O'Brien
May 25, 2007 Matt O'Brien rated it liked it
Recommends it for: sure
ok, so i'd like to write that i loved it. in my opinion, this is like faulkner, or moby dick or something. yeah, you should read it. you're going to appreciate the hell out of it, because it's splendid, but let's be honest, it is work. it takes a little while to get the rhythm of it and to hit your stride.
John Pappas
Jul 27, 2011 John Pappas rated it really liked it
Like an urban Faulkner, Wideman details urban decay as a metaphor for the spiritual decay in 1980s America and, in this allegory, uses the 1985 bombing of a MOVE house by state police as a metaphor for the oppression of state control over blacks in America. As complex and engaging as Ellison's Invisible Man.
Feb 28, 2008 Masked rated it really liked it
this book is hard as hell to read, but worth the trouble. a fictionalized account of the bombing of the MOVE house in philly in 1985 (by the national guard, not some random folks) as sorted out by a writer returning to the community after a long absence and great distance.
John Watson
Using tastefully crafted phrases, John Wideman talks about the devastating social/political effect of the bombs droped on a Philadelphia housing project. Wideman sings a sad and complex song that can take a reader's breath away.
Dec 29, 2011 Wojtek rated it it was amazing
Ingenious. Wideman crushed me once again. The images he produces seriatim engulf your consciousness completely. His language is so vivid that you end up hearing his voice whispering the novel in your ear.
Katie McNichols
Jan 04, 2009 Katie McNichols rated it it was amazing
I keep reading this over and over. It's so good. There's echos of Shakespeare in here. It is also increasingly difficult to find anything on the MOVE organization, so, I love this. Check it out.
May 04, 2012 Paul rated it did not like it
I read this book at university during my degree course. I really didn't like it. I ended up skipping whole pages, which didn't seem to make it any more incomprehensible.
Apr 06, 2010 Rob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Intense examination of race, class, and urban decay and despair... If you remember the bombing of MOVE in Philly, you'll want to read this book.
Feb 17, 2014 Joey rated it really liked it
Part Pynchon, Part Leyner - but lacking the intricacy of the former and the absurd hilarity of the latter. Still a fun read though.
Max P
Mar 19, 2014 Max P rated it really liked it
Very excellent and unique. A challenging and edgy book that is still entertaining and satisfying in a traditional way.
Oct 21, 2008 Pete rated it liked it
so far so good, although it is kind of a "backstage" novel. the black american non-crazy martin amis: GIVE IT UP
Sep 26, 2007 Tom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kevin Kralik
Impressionism lives. SEPTA is gross. Never underestimate the intellectual quality of Park Slope trash.
Apr 19, 2013 Susan rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013
Finished quickly because I got bored and stopped reading. I hardly ever give up on a book.
Jan 19, 2008 Marybeth rated it really liked it
“When you choose to live in a city, you also are choosing a city to die in.”
Apr 17, 2011 Gerri marked it as to-read
I have not read this book yet. How does it rank with his other books?
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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 Stories
More about John Edgar Wideman...

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