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Ban en Banlieue

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  427 ratings  ·  80 reviews
Bhanu Kapil's Ban en Banlieue follows a brown (black) girl as she walks home from school in the first moments of a riot. An April night in London, in 1979, is the axis of this startling work of overlapping arcs and varying approaches. By the end of the night, Ban moves into an incarnate and untethered presence, becoming all matter soot, meat, diesel oil and force as she lo ...more
Paperback, 109 pages
Published January 6th 2015 by Nightboat Books
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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Feb 18, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: tob2016
Note: This review purposely attempts to mimic the style of this book.

Review, March 2016.

No, I don't think so. Ban lies naked on my coffee table, a wooden tray on a leather ottoman. Someone covers it with paper. No one takes off their clothes. But we -- eat -- chew -- blink -- ignore -- [hold up cookies in our fists] "What kind of book is this, ma'am?"

At 7:40 p.m. I began to write -- but did not write. What would I have written if I had read a different book? It is interesting to write a revie
Jeff Jackson
Jan 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
"One thing next to another doesn't mean they touch."
- Bhanu Kapil

Motto for this notebook of collected fragments toward a novel that will never be written. The resonant action of a woman laying down on the sidewalk when confronted by the oncoming violence of a race riot, playing dead before her actual death, examined from many angles and eras.
This review originally appeared on my blog at
I have finished reading ban en banlieue, which in actuality means I have begun reading it, begun letting the book read me. this is the text as destabilised, delinearised encounter. i can’t remember the last time i read a book so exciting, so incendiary.

‘I want a literature that is not made from literature’

a litany of changing light, gathering in weird skies, a foreign (but all too familiar) england. ban is a nove
Jan 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: tob16
"If I see this, this, and this, then even though I cannot see it, there must be a novel at the center of it." - a scientific hypothesis about the negative novel found here. I want to dislike this book more, but I actually find that I have a solid level of respect for it. I don't know if I would consider it a work of fiction, let alone a novel - and there will be some angry ToBers, I'm sure, who will rant about how this was included as opposed to X, Y, or Z - but at the same time, it achieves an ...more
Jan 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
More thoughts to come. This could have easily been one star but I prefer to save those for people who can't write. Kapil quite obviously can write in an intentional and lovely manner, but that isn't reason enough to publish this non-novel, non-poetry collection.

There is something here, I just don't know what it is. I wasn't planning on reading Ban En Banlieue for this year's (2016) Tournament of Books (ToB) -- it just seemed too strange (just read that blurb above!) and was largely unavailable (no Kindle version, out of stock at most retailers), but alas I did find it and I figured what the heck, I can get through about 100 pages of pretty much anything, right?!? And that's what I got, 100 pages of pretty much anything. Literally.

It was pretty much
Jennifer Wallis
Jan 14, 2016 rated it did not like it
In the notes section the author states, "I was interested in what happens when you don't say anything at all."

This book is what happens when you don't say anything at all. It is an anti-book. It was a colossal waste of my time. I only finished it because of the Tournament of Books.

Fellow TOBers. Skip it.
Helen McClory
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Folds out long limbs from itself into the world, into not-novel spaces and is in general a book of a blueprint that is also a building, a feat. Also beautiful to read.
AmberBug com*
Dec 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Another TOB book that leaves me blank. I really don't have much to say about this one.
Shari Strong
Jan 19, 2016 rated it did not like it
I'm afraid I didn't understand a word. This book has a great rep, but--sadly--I didn't connect with it at all.
Kevin Connor
I did not understand very much of this, and I can't give it a star rating or review in good conscience. I did read all of the words though. Sometimes you just have to smash yourself with culture and hope that the reverberations serve you well down the road. I think that this is one of those times.
Jan 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
This is the first year I have a really good shot at reading the whole list of books for the Tournament of Books. That is the ONLY reason I finished this book. As in previous years, I have not enjoyed every book that's been on the list, but plowing through books I don't like can still be an illuminating experience once the discussion begins.
TOB organizers, you have led me wrong! This book centers around the idea of (not) writing a novel about nothing that will never be written and a character(?)
Read this for the 2016 Tournament of Books. I am not assigning a rating as I can not fathom how to begin. This seems much more like some collection of thoughts for a novel and more notes about past and future performance art presentations. The inspiration for the material is the 2012 gang rape and murder of a young Indian woman and the 1979 death of a militant anti racist activist. It felt very much like trying to read something in a foreign language. I will be very interested in the TOB judgmen ...more
Jacob Wren
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A few lines I jotted down from Ban en Banlieue:

It’s still not real to me – what the sentences are for and how long they might go on.

I want a literature that is not made from literature.

It is difficult to work in simple, powerful ways with the proxy memories.

Does the body of the witness discharge something too?

Jan 13, 2016 rated it liked it
The unfairness of this book is that it assumes that you are familiar with the Ban art-project. Of course, I doubt Kapil understands why it was chosen for ToB either. Kind of feel like the choosers should have been a little more picky. This won't survive because no one* will have the context needed to understand it. It's not a novel or even meant to be interpreted as writing.
A totally genre-bending "failed novel," this is a fascinating book that I think I would have to read at least two more times to understand. But perhaps that's not the point.
Also, some really gorgeous writing. It reminded me of Dionne Brand and Gertrude Stein.
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Slid into the bath with this book and emerged a little later, even more of a mermaid. than I was before.
Rebecca H.
Feb 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
I don't really understand this book but I think I might love it anyway. Maybe.
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
a difficult book that is bursting with meaning and mourning and life. poetry, prose, performance, photographs, slices of the archive, all in here.
Anita NotherBook
Mar 18, 2016 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
Recommended to Anita by: Tournament of Books 2016
I don't think this book should be called a novel. It's more like notes for or pieces and fragments of a novel, as well as some sort of diary about the author's art. A novel is supposed to have certain elements that this "book" just doesn't have at all. In fact, it seems to mock the fact that it knows it doesn't have these elements. At one point more than half way through the book, the author says she feels sorry for the reader for having read this far when there's nothing there!

I read this book
Lee Razer
It's not a novel, it's a polemical challenge to the art form of the novel. It says the novel may be fine for you (white, male, etc.) but it doesn't work for me (female, immigrant, non-white, etc.), at least as I try to tell this story. Actually the text itself is much more modest than that, that's just me enlarging the meaning: the author, Kapil, tells us that she tried to write a historical novel about a girl named Ban, born to immigrants, who was murdered in a white nationalist riot in 1979 En ...more
May 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mirrors
I didn't want to finish Ban En Banlieue. It's like chewing the most delicious meal of your entire life -- you don't just want to swallow it whole, you'd rather savour it, chewing slowly, tasting it meticulously, and allowing the aftertaste to linger after taking another bite. There's so much packed into the 109 pages. Bhanu Kapil's writing is evocative, delicious. It's unlike anything I've ever read. It seems to stem from her other books, forming a stronger and almost entirely new exploration.

Jan 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016, tob-2016
What the huh? Definitely not a mainstream novel and really not a novel at all. At points, the work is described as notes for a novel, but I think that implies a lot more structure and continuity than what I encountered. In my mind, and in deference to some of the text, I kept thinking of this as the discharge of a novel. If that thought sounds interesting to you or if you really appreciate incredibly challenging reads as a growth opportunities, then by all means, please pick this one up. Otherwi ...more
Amy McLay Paterson
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2016
Ban en banlieue is a novel-shaped hole in the wall. In Kapil's own words, it is: "a list of the errors I made as a poet engaging in a novel-shaped space."

Kapil's prose poem about a novel that never came to be sketches out the empty space around the book. It is "literature not made from literature" but from all the truth, experience, hardship, tears, and intersections that sometimes compose what we think of as a book.

The book that does emerge– Schrodinger's novel, both destroyed and somehow rema
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016-read
This is a difficult "novel" to digest. I'm really not sure what to think about it. Is the entire novel fiction? Are these Kapi's thoughts as she was trying to write a novel about Ban making it more an extended essay? I liked the narrative of notes around the actual novel and what it takes to create, or in this case not create, a work of art. I did feel like it had an impact the constant discussion of women's bodies and the violence that happens to them. About the borders of a person, and when a ...more
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016
This is an anti-narrative anti-novel. It is many many things (chronology, art project, memoir, prose poem) operating (by design) around a central void -- the story that is the ostensible subject of the book but remains forever untold. In some senses, this is a fascinating project - I think many readers, like me, will fill in a rather vivid story of what happened to Ban on the night of long ago race riots, although as Kapil tells us, she herself because of writer's block and other issues never ca ...more
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
I am so interested to see how this fares in the TOB, because I have no idea what to make of it. "Ban en Balieue" isn't so much a book, but an exercise in the challenges of writing a book: situating characters, exploring their feelings and motivations.

Which, okay, yes. Yes, some of this is the kind of internal monologue I have when I'm starting a new creative writing project, and yes, Kapil's fragments touch on issues that are interesting to consider.

Still: I'd rather see a byproduct of some sor
Mar 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
Two stars is probably not fair. But I'm reading this for TOB2016 and it also doesn't seem fair to judge this on a different scale than the other contestants. The writing is great, beautiful. There is no story here which makes its inclusion in TOB2016 a little perplexing. This is a book about ideas. It feels like better fodder for an MFA class than a fiction contest. The reach of this book is pretty limited. It's self referential and abstract. This was not for me but I have plenty of writer frien ...more
Jan 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very interesting, particularly the way Kapil moved between autobiography, notes for performance art (? I think), biography, and fiction. A very physical way of description.

Though I feel like the work is too fragmentary to make a really good whole. There are a lot of good sentences about how sexual violence is used in a culture, particularly against women and POC, but the story she's trying to tell of Ban feels secondary to the fragmentation of the book.
Jan 13, 2016 rated it liked it
A novel that will never be written about Ban lying down on the ground in her suburban London neighborhood as a race riot approaches, 1979. Descriptions of performance art about the image of Ban. Ivy and asphalt. The image of brown girls lying at the bottom of the world. I don't quite get it - I sort of got something out of it?

EDIT: Thanks to the East Baton Rouge Parish Library for the interlibrary loan! There was a 2014 edition of this book which was eligible for my library's ILL service.
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Tournament of Books: This topic has been closed to new comments. Ban en Banlieue, by Bjanu Kapit 40 144 Mar 08, 2016 12:23PM  
The Rooster!: TOB16 Title - Kapil's Ban en Banlieue 28 72 Jan 22, 2016 07:54AM  

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Bhanu Kapil is a British-Indian poet who lives in the United States and the United Kingdom. She is the author of a number of full-length works of poetry/prose, including The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press, 2001), Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works, 2006), humanimal [a project for future children] (Kelsey Street Press, 2009), Schizophrene (Nightboat, 2011), Ban e ...more

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“Charcoal—the very thing Ban is made of—is so messy. I was covered from my brow to my waist like the chimney sweep in the poems of William Blake in every art class of my youth. As a teenager, I used to play truant every Wednesday and catch the train to Pimlico, still in my uniform and with my packed lunch, as if I was going to school. I went to the Tate—every Wednesday—like clockwork—to look—at the illuminated books—of Blake—in a very dark room intended to preserve—the golden ink and peacock green or blue embellishments. The error here is that I chose to write my book in place where these colors and memories are not readily available. There is no bank. Instead, I scream them—I scream the colors each to each—and this is difficult. It is difficult to work in simple, powerful ways with the proxy memories. For weeks at a time, I stopped writing—and when I returned, Ban was gone. She continued on without me, and what I had to do next will make you dislike me even more than you already do. I had to eat was on the floor. I had to make an artifact out of something that had left no artifacts. I had to put the charcoal in my mouth and choke it down.” 0 likes
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