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3.63  ·  Rating details ·  1,440 ratings  ·  173 reviews
From the author of bestselling Invisible Man--the classic novel of African-American experience--this long-awaited second novel tells an evocative tale of a prodigal of the twentieth century. Brilliantly crafted, moving, and wise, Juneteenth is the work of an American master.

Tell me what happened while there's still time, demands the dying Senator Adam Sunraider to the itin
Paperback, 400 pages
Published June 13th 2000 by Vintage (first published May 29th 1999)
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Average rating 3.63  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,440 ratings  ·  173 reviews

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MJ Nicholls
My rule with unfinished or abandoned novels is to leave them festering lonesome on shelves as embarrassing reminders of a writer’s all-too-human faffiness—Gogol’s Dead Souls II serving as the ur-example of what happens when an author fails to follow up a masterpiece and loses his sanity and reputation in the process. Whether Ellison lost his sanity trying to complete his Untitled Second Novel is unclear—forty years trying to follow up one of the Great American Novels Invisible Man suggests a lac ...more
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't listen to country music so forgive my inability to properly reference this song; a song I abhor. I have seen the music video though. The guitar-slinging singer hops out of his Chevy pickup wearing a baseball cap and mechanics shirt singing about all the characteristics of a "real" American. As I watched this video, as a man whose head remains too large for donning baseball caps and drives a small sedan, I felt entirely un-American. And enraged. His depiction undoubtedly represents some A ...more
Nov 10, 2008 rated it really liked it

One reading while breastfeeding is not going to cut it with this book. Talk about layers.

I feel the need to read lots of scholarship about this book, but not right now.

Does it bother you when you read a book that describes someone as a "great" something but gives no evidence of their being "great"? Well, this book delivers in that department. It's about a preacher and a politician and boy is it packed with prime examples of preaching and politicking (especially the former).

I wonder what the
Never Without a Book
Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was more of a 3.5 star for me.
How does one follow up a masterpiece? Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is, in my humble say-so, one of the greatest works of fiction ever written. Genius. Perhaps Ellison should have stopped there, but he spent decades trying to put together his second novel. When he died in 1994, this still-not-published work was found to be more than 2,000 pages long without any clear conclusion or pathway. In an effort to get something out there, editor John Callahan had Juneteenth published, although this novel ...more
Jul 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I rate this 4.5. It took me longer than I wanted to finish this book. While reading it, I knew I would get more out of this upon subsequent readings. It's a rich, and highly textured novel. Ellison was at the height of his novelistic craft, and attacked the construction of the American racial caste system with philosophical tenacity.

What's impressive is that this is a novel-in-progress edited into a reader's edition by literary scholar John F. Callahan. Callahan's introduction and afterword are
Jul 28, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
How do you judge a book that was unfinished at the time it was taken over by the editor? A book that was 40 years in the making, likely to have been published as three books if the author had finished it before he passed away? Do you judge it as a work in progress, a sketch book piece from the creaters of one of Western Literatures masterpieces? After all, Elisson never handed this book to his publisher and said "It is done". It seems unfair to judge it as a finished work bearing Ellison's name, ...more
Sep 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Adore this book. I found that, despite its strange construction as a book, Juneteenth stands on its own as a masterpiece of American lit... and knowing Ellison's history and the toil that went into its writing only adds to the book's classicness.

Juneteenth is one small excerpt of Ellison's 2000+ manuscript after the Invisible Man. Ellison spent years on the follow-up story, enduring a '66 fire that burned the initial manuscript, and tearing through writing and re-writing Juneteenth for the rest
Paul Haspel
Jun 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the true and final end of slavery in the United States, provides the title and the thematic centerpiece for Ralph Ellison’s second and final novel – a brilliant affirmation of human community, and a work that many of the admirers of this great American writer thought would never see the light of day.

Ellison, of course, needs no introduction for any student of American literature, or of great literature generally. Born in Oklahoma City in 1914, Ellison made
Anna Groover
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-class, religion, 2018
In the notes at the end of Juneteenth, Ralph Ellison's editor includes this musing from Ellison: "Was it perversity, or was it that the structure of power demanded that anyone acting out the role would do so in essentially the same way?"

I think this is a great framing of the question at the heart of Juneteenth, a novel about a white boy raised by a black preacher to become a preacher as well who runs away from that life and becomes a race-baiting senator in the pre-Civil Rights Era period. Ellis
Jun 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: freeing your mind & your body
Shelves: historiography
I was surprised to find that slavery still existed in America even after the death of so many of our young countrymen in a divisive though ultimately decisive war. The title of this work derives from the day in the middle of June a town in the state of Texas finally complied with what had become federal law & formally ended the practice of slavery. The too-long-delayed celebration of newly-freed individuals becomes a backdrop for understanding contemporary politics.

The other reviewers suggest th
Jun 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio
The audio version is narrated very well by Joe Morton but Ellison is a complex writer and I think some sections just have to be read and digested, like the Senate speech and the sermons. I'm going to get a hard copy so I can fully appreciate it. ...more
Kim Williams
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully written, but unfinished novel, Juneteenth left me wanting more. The language of this book ranges from soaring religious rhetoric to a wonderfully staccato poetry reminiscent of jazz scatting. The story is told somewhat in reverse, using the dueling flashbacks of the two main characters. We gradually learn the story of how Bliss, shot and at death's door in the beginning of this novel, went from child preacher raised by the black preacher Hickman to a race-baiting Senator. Many ques ...more
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Juneteenth is Ralph Ellison's posthumous follow-up to Invisible Man. It's about a senator, Bliss, who is shot on the senate floor, and the African-American man, Hickman, who raised him. It's also about identity and how the way we identify ourselves affects our actions and how we treat others. Despite having been raised by African-Americans, Bliss grows up to become a racist, white senator. Once he decides to be white, this influences the future actions of his life, which leads to the assassinati ...more
David Alexander
Jan 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Ralph Ellison was an American writer of powerful intensity. I found Juneteenth, like The Invisible Man, pleasingly absorbing, and, indeed, gripping, and a rare thing, a religious modern novel that depicts a good black preacher, "Daddy" Hickman, with a compelling Christian faith, and a compelling account of his conversion. Ellison's depiction of black community with dynamic realism, capturing as it does the pith and vinegar and goodness and life and peril of the people, and illuminating from the ...more
Jennifer W
Dec 06, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-books
Too twisty and stream of consciousness for me. very few real plot points, hard to follow at times. I know this was an editor's work of unfinished notes and whatnot, and maybe I would have liked the whole more, but as it stands, I wasn't that impressed. ...more
Trevor Seigler
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recently I read "The Castle," a work published only after the death of its author, Franz Kafka. Similarly, "Juneteenth," the second (and much delayed) novel by Ralph Ellison, was only published after his death in 1994, coming out five years later. I tend to be on guard about anything published posthumously, because the author or authors are no longer around to let me or any other reader know if the final work was what they intended. Kafka infamously told his buddy Max Brod to "burn" all his manu ...more
tortoise dreams
Jul 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A racist senator relates his life to the black preacher who raised him in this slice of an uncompleted historical epic about color in America.

Book Review: Juneteenth is the great unfinished book that makes Ralph Ellison (1913-94) one of that elite group of great novelists who published just one novel: Emily Bronte, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, and (irony of ironies) Margaret Mitchell. Ordinarily I don't read unfinished novels published after the author's death (such as The Last Tycoon or Go Set a
Jason Das
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like Ralph Ellison’s writing and worldview as much as I do, you should definitely read this. It’s a fever dream of the USA in the first half of the 20th Century, reveling in explorations of sexuality, politics, race, religion, pop culture, childhood, identity, memory, and nature. It veers between extreme naturalism and allegorical farce. (I think it might be what they call "modernism" (DH Lawrence, James Joyce, WG Sebold) but I never studied literature that way so I dunno?)

Like some othe
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
First, I want to say that I am not one of these white people who had never heard of the holiday/celebration of Juneteenth until 2020 following the Black Lives Matter protests. Every year I figured I should start reading this in May and finish by June 19th, and then June would roll around and I realized I had forgotten. I started reading it this year at the end of April, figuring I'd have plenty of time. But lo and behold, I didn't finish it until July, after SO MUCH had happened in our country.

Apr 03, 2019 marked it as maybe
Do I dare read this book, published after the author's death?


Invisible Man 2 stars when read for a second time. Much better first time around. Now it is dated..
Harriett Milnes
This novel was put together after Ellison's death from more than a thousand pages of notes he had left. There were 2 sections that were brilliant, conveying a overwhelming chaotic vision: the section at the beginning about the Senator's speech in Congress and the shooting, and the section at the revival towards the end. Memorable characters, in a setting from 1950s America. ...more
Coleman Erika
Jun 29, 2020 rated it liked it
I truly believe this book was too deep of a book for me to understand. I was able to grasp the issue of race, but something may have just gone over my head.
Susan Emmet
Jul 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Juneteenth..."the celebration of a gaudy illusion," regarding Emancipation. And Lord knows Ellison's forty-year effort to complete this novel needed adept assistance from a good editor, John F. Callahan, Ellison's literary executor. But it's no "gaudy illusion."
It's a wonderful, entrapping book, full of sermons and dreams and music and history and folktale and layers of dialog and plot and theme. Just an amazing work pared down from 2000 pages of text Ellison left, along with boxes of notes.
James Klagge
Jun 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was excerpted from a massive novel project that remained unfinished at the author's death. So it is unclear whether the flaws derive from the project itself or from its unfinished state. A much larger edition of the project was recently published as "Three Days Before the Shooting". Perhaps the larger edition answers the many unanswered questions that hang mysteriously in "Juneteenth". I don't know. I read this in the middle of June because that is when Juneteenth falls. There is a mar ...more
Lora Shouse
It’s a shame Ralph Ellison never was able to finish his second novel. In this edition, editor John Callahan tells the story of how he was working on it for years and years, and just when he had it nearly finished, the manuscript, or at least a large part of it, was destroyed in a fire. He went back to working on it, but was never able to get it to that point again. Working with it after Ellison’s death, Callahan determined that the existing material could likely have become three novels, but non ...more
Noelle M
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After I closed the book it took me time to digest the story. The story is about a racially prejudiced white U.S. senator who was abandoned at his illegitimate birth, and reared by a black minister named Alonzo Hickman whose pulpit style was religion as spectacle--in which he schooled the boy. OR the story may be about a black minister named Alonzo Hickman who reared an abandoned white waif who turned into a political con able to backstab anyone in his climb to the top. The tale alternates points ...more
Rating/review based on enjoyment alone. I was in WAY over my head with this one.

A dizzying, frustrating, rhythmic, sprawling, uneven, lyrical, byzantine, and, at many points, glorious free-form(? stream-of-consciousness? mediation? riffing? experiment in surreal post-modernist socio-political commentary?) on the whole of America. I struggled through this one, with a feeling of it being over my head. [I've since read the editor's notes and a little background that I wish I would have read first
Mar 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: dedicated
Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison was a book with great voice and a good example of good writing. I've not read the Invisible Man so I cannot judge on his previous work. After reading this book though I can say that the book was not that hard to understand as far as reading but the story itself/the set up was very confusing at times. The book does say its an edited compilation of Ellision work and it does show at parts sometimes to much. At times to story sort of just skip and goes somewhere else. Thi ...more
May 17, 2009 added it
Seriously intended to fall in love with this book beyond personal facades of intellectual bouts, it fell down pretty damn hard.

1. I adore African American History- I rather enjoy the pungent negativity surrounding it, clearly masking glorious beauty, and resilience levels so high in terms of all aspects.

2. My ideas of emancipation and American History isn't so whole hearted.

3. For someone who doesn't give a slight kilowatt too tension or any level of connection and stimulation of the mind, this
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Ralph Ellison was a scholar and writer. He was born Ralph Waldo Ellison in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, named by his father after Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ellison was best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory (1986). For The New York Times , the b ...more

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“Words of Emancipation didn't arrive until the middle of June so they called it Juneteenth. So that was it, the night of Juneteenth celebration, his mind went on. The celebration of a gaudy illusion. 16 likes
“God is love, I said, but art's the possibility of forms, and shadows are the source of identity.” 16 likes
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