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Dancing in the Dark
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Dancing in the Dark

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  138 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
In this searing novel, Caryl Phillips reimagines the life of the first black entertainer in the U.S. to reach the highest levels of fame and fortune. After years of struggling for success on the stage, Bert Williams (1874—1922), the child of recent immigrants from the Bahamas, made the radical decision to don blackface makeup and play the “coon.” Behind this mask he became ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published October 10th 2006 by Vintage (first published September 1st 2005)
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Sep 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Struggled with the writing style so much..with all the chopping and changing of perspectives, I loss sight of much of the plot, which is a shame as the language used was really captivating and one of the main reasons I continued till the end..
I feel bad giving this book such a low rating when it appears so many others enjoyed it. It was the writing style that brought it down for me. The sudden changes in perspective, third person omnipresent, first person, third person limited, and then 'newspaper' articles, and wow, it just ended up doing my head in.

I can't help but wonder how much was real, and how much is Phillips' imagination coming into play. I think if this book was written in a much more linear form, and the perspective wasn't
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm really behind in reading the novels of this wonderful, prolific writer! What an amazing, bitter and sadly shifting novel of voices, thoughts and alienation about a world where entertaining becomes a means of degrading oneselves to insanity.
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
actually started enjoy the reading from the second part on. Not a bad book, though... But definitely not the kind of book I would read to relax and have a good time. Too difficult to change so many points of view and understand each time who's talking and about what. 2 out of 5 is fair for me, but I think the writer would be able to do so much better... and besides, issues confronted in the book are totally valid, but a preparation reading or collecting information about the age and place where ...more
Anne Libera
I'm fascinated by Bert Williams and I find his one man poker game in the film Natural Born Gambler to be a brilliant piece of mime and character study. I found this fictionalized version of his life to be confusing (multiple points of view that switch without warning). And having finished, I'm genuinely unsure of what the effect or theme that the author intended. The historic Williams was known as a deeply sad man but the story that Phillips weaves around that sadness is sometimes ambiguous and ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Andrew Smith
Feb 25, 2011 rated it liked it
I heard Caryl Phillips, author of ‘Dancing in the Dark,’ at Toronto’s International Festival of Authors some years ago. I was impressed with Phillips, who was born in St. Kitts, West Indies and brought up in Britain. I was interested in what he had to say about his background and very much enjoyed his reading. Also, I’m writing a Caribbean black character as part of the new novel I’m working on — and it’s Black History Month at the moment — so the time was definitely ripe to read Phillips’s work ...more
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-booklist
Saint Kitts and Nevis

"The balance has gone."

"He once more closes his eyes and urges his mind to hurry back in the direction of the Caribbean."

"In this new place they are now encouraged to see themselves as inferior."

"It is true, journeys don't always leave footprints."

"I truly lost sight of myself many years ago."

"Do you really understand what they want from us in this American world? We are being held hostage as performers, and those who imagine that they are engaged in something other than ent
Oct 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book was so well-received, certainly among my fellow GoodReaders, that I feel somewhat out of step in my disappointment. I love Bert Williams, I love historical fiction, and I didn't care for this.

In this novelization of the life of Bert Williams, Phillips concentrates on guilt that Phillips places on Williams' shoulders for playing the "coon" for white audiences in the vaudeville era. If Williams felt guilt, he certainly wasn't alone because he caught heat from black contemporaries for de
Jun 12, 2008 rated it liked it
What a sad, sad book. Melancoly. OH MY! It was a fictionized (is there such a word?) story about one of the very first black performers in the early 1900's. It actually was a two team comedy, singing and dancing act one of which sported black face (if you remember Al Jolson - even tho he was white Bert, in the book, also sported that type of black face with the exaggerated lips). The author weaved a story of sadness that plagued the performers b/c although their life was in the performance, the ...more
Dec 26, 2013 rated it liked it
It's strange to read the Wiki entry for Bert Williams after the book, since the Wiki entry employs a defensive, even celebratory tone to describe Williams's career, whereas Dancing in the Dark never loses sight of the pathos of blackface performance. Phillips does a great job of capturing Williams as a melancholic alcoholic who has internalized American culture's racism and criticisms of his work by black intellectuals--he's really getting it from both ends, so to speak--but the book rarely vent ...more
May 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I feel like a bad person for not knowing who Bert Williams was before I started reading this book. I'm still not convinces I know him, because this book was fraught with Williams' confusion over his own identity as a Black performer at the turn of the 19th and into the 20th century. A (and it pains me to write this) "coon," mocking his own blackness (often in blackface, Williams elicited laughs from white audiences and often disgust or outright hatred from African American audiences.

He gave up
Kris McCracken
Mar 11, 2015 rated it liked it
A somewhat confusing narrative that shifts regularly from character to character and from fiction to reality. Of course, this is in the cause of underlining the ambiguities of any claim to 'truth', but it can occasionally lead the reader to tear at his hair.

The text itself weaves news clippings and interviews, and extracts from the original musicals and songs made famous by Bert Williams, once said to be the most famous black man in America. It has it's merit, but I'm not sure that it made me an
Jun 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book tells the tale of Bert Williams, one of America's first black Vaudeville performers. It is basically historical fiction, told from a first-person perspective, but it is fascinating nevertheless. Set in the early half of the 20th Century, it outlines the struggle of black performers to gain credibility in an all-white theatre environment, during a time when white actors were still doing 'black-face'. This book is unflinching and touching, and although the storyline can get a little conf ...more
Sep 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Dancing in the Dark is a novel about Bert Williams, an African American entertainer in the 1800's performing as a "Black face" actor. The novel explores racism in the form of black face performances. Caryl Phillips used dialogue and characterization to illustrate the life of an African American man and his struggle against racism and identity. The novel is divided into chapters and acts. This creates a sense of place and helps the reader follow the story as it progresses.
Tomi Adenekan
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Typical Caryl Phillips book. Very well written but oh, sad. The first read, it was very moving and enjoyable. After the second read, though, I started to see flaws Why does his protagonist's life have to be so unrelentingly unhappy! I've read a couple of other books by the author and they're both along similar lines. I guess he's just an author happy to write sad books. He does it well.
Rose Anderson
This is a brutally frank portrayal of the conflicting tensions between freedom and revulsion during the life journey of the first black American star as he performs in Ziegfeld's Follies in blackface.
Dec 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Always interested in early American musical theater history, and Bert Williams is one of the most fascinating figures. I thought this would be more history and less novel-like, but it's well written.
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: literature
I appreciate historical fiction and I'm sure the sadness that the main character experiences in this story was very real and wide spread during that time, but it was just too depressing for me to get anything thing else out of it.
Feb 14, 2010 rated it liked it
The jumping around in points of view (from person to person, as well as from 1st person to 3rd person to newspaper article) was too distracting for me.
Mar 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
this was a top read for me in 2007
Oct 01, 2015 rated it liked it
This book is awkwardly written, it jumps from third person to first then back to third and this disorientation made it an arduous read.
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
eh, not feeling it on the textual architectonics. feels like a good execution of talent
Beth Shields-Szostak
Jun 22, 2010 marked it as to-read
Shelves: signed
1st edition, signed by author
Sep 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
E-book given to me as a gift. Not something I would have purchased, but interesting none the lest.
Scott Moore
May 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
A beautifully written - and fictionalized - glimpse into the life of Bert Williams. I need to re-read this one.
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Aug 02, 2012
Peepal Tree Press
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Caryl Phillips was born in St.Kitts and came to Britain at the age of four months. He grew up in Leeds, and studied English Literature at Oxford University.

He began writing for the theatre and his plays include Strange Fruit (1980), Where There is Darkness (1982) and The Shelter (1983). He won the BBC Giles Cooper Award for Best Radio Play of the year with The Wasted Years (1984). He has written
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