Nancy Oakes's Reviews > If He Hollers Let Him Go

If He Hollers Let Him Go by Chester Himes
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's review
Feb 09, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: crime-fiction-america, crime-fiction
Read in February, 2009

The setting of this novel is Los Angeles during World War II. The main character, Bob Jones, is an African-American man, who gets a job at a defense shipyard there, and is the narrator of this story. Bob is, in fact, the supervisor of a small crew of other African-Americans. The action takes place just after the forced internment of Japanese-Americans in California, which kind of sets the stage for how Bob sees himself as a black man in white Los Angeles. He's also in a situation where, because most of the able-bodied men have gone off to war, there's an influx of laborers, both white and African-American, men and women. He often ruminates about his existence as a black man, realizing that even with his position as supervisor, other supervisors will not share their white workers when he needs them to do so, or that he is not wanted in white, middle-class restaurants or other establishments. In short, Bob is aware that as an African-American man at this time, he's being oppressed, and the whole symbolism (imho) of the Japanese internment reminds him constantly that it could happen to him at any time for any reason.

Bob has a girlfriend, Alice, who, since her father is a very well-paid physician, lives a very middle-class sort of life. Alice is fair-skinned and a social worker, entertaining herself with intellectual friends. When Bob tries to explain how he feels because of being African-American in Los Angeles, Alice tries to explain to him that if he'd just let all of these feelings of white oppression go, and find himself a place in the middle-class scene, life would be so much easier for him. Alice is sort of a dreamer, who doesn't want to come to terms with her heritage; she really has no clue. Bob, on the other hand, can't ignore the realities of his life, and this hits home one day on the job when a trashy white woman laborer from Texas calls him the n-word and he reacts in kind, setting off a chain of events that snowball out of control.

I liked this book, and I'll probably read many more by this author in the future. His characters were believable, the setting was entirely believable and as a reader, you get into Bob's head very quickly and you stay with him the entire time. Himes is an awesome writer. I would most definitely recommend this book to people who want a bit of grit in their reading, or to people who may have been previously on the fence about reading this author, but don't expect to come away with this upbeat 'cause it ain't gonna happen.
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02/07 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Tom (new)

Tom H's crime novels, starring two black detectives, Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, are quite gritty and entertaining, even humorous (if you like your humor as stark as Swift's)that transcend the genre in commenting on race and justice in racist society.

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