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White Tears

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  7,877 ratings  ·  1,348 reviews
From one of the most talented fiction writers at work today: two ambitious young musicians are drawn into the dark underworld of blues record collecting, haunted by the ghosts of a repressive past.

Two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is glamorous and the heir to one of America's great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with m
Hardcover, First Edition, 271 pages
Published March 14th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Greg I read this as horror: just like Dr. Frankenstein created a monster from various parts, Seth creates a song from various sources of street noises, the…moreI read this as horror: just like Dr. Frankenstein created a monster from various parts, Seth creates a song from various sources of street noises, then absorbs the song, becomes the song, and very, very horrible things happen.(less)

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Average rating 3.68  · 
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 ·  7,877 ratings  ·  1,348 reviews

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Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads
This book isn't what you think it is. This book wasn't what you thought it was. This book has always not been what you thought it would be.

I felt like there were two books in White Tears, but the final, can't stop reading for anything 50 pages force the halves into sides A and B of the record, completing each other, forming a whole, forcing me to appreciate more of what had come before. Early parts are occasionally irritating but gave me enough interest as we come to know Seth and Carter and Car
Bill Kerwin
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing

A novel of horror that is also a novel of ideas is a rare thing. Frankenstein, the great grand daddy of them all, clearly meets the definition, and I believe a good case could be made for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Island of Dr. Moreau as well. But the only other example I can think of is the subject of this review: White Tears by Hari Kunzru.

It’s a great premise for a horror novel. Carter (the elegant trust fund kid) and his sidekick Seth (the nerdy lower middle class k
lark benobi
Mar 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An unnerving read that pulls the reader in nearly as many uncomfortable directions as it does its characters.

The main narrator has a glib and superficial way of describing events, where the very dark currents of the novel are camouflaged for a time, only slipping into view intermittently. The foreshadowing is so subtle that it can be mistaken for misdirection, but it was the perfect way to disarm me in the beginning, and to prevent me from accurately predicting what was in store for me.

Music do
J. Kent Messum
*Review originally published in the New York Journal Of Books:

There’s a lot going on in White Tears . . . maybe too much.

The story starts off well. Two young white men meet in college and make a strong, but unlikely, connection through their shared love of music. Seth, from whose perspective the story is mostly told, is the low income antisocial kid who proves to be great at making equipment and recording with it, but little else. Carter, a charming and
Diane S ☔
Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 Seth, our narrator is somewhat of a misfit, many are surprised when Carter, the son of a wealthy family, picks him to be his mate, best friend. They share a love of music, and both are avid collectors, though this collecting will soon turn into obsession when Seth, who takes to the streets to record street noises, records part of an old, unheard of song from a black man playing a chess match. Sparking a switch in Carter's brain, he starts searching for lost, blues music recorded from blacks, ...more
Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Some books accumulate merit points as they progress; others have a habit of losing them. I'm afraid this fell into the latter category for me. It's set up really well. The narrator is a nerdy guy who goes around recording ambient noise. No one likes him. Until Carter, a cool rich boy, takes a shine to him. Carter doesn't have much time for the digital age. He collects old r&b records, the older and more obscure the better. Carter carries all the ancestral guilt for the base means by which his fa ...more
Dec 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
A surreal ghost story, White Tears confronts the painful legacy of the exploitation of Black culture in America. The novel starts off by following two white hipsters, Seth and Carter, as they move to New York, launch a record company, and try to make a fortune off appropriating Black music. In early chapters, the author builds a great deal of suspense surrounding a mysterious folk song that Seth records while on a walk searching for interesting sounds; he and Carter upload it to the web, someone ...more
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The song that never ends

A disorienting, uncomfortable, fascinating story that looks like one thing on the surface, but veers off into unexpected places. What begins with a couple of young white guys who are passionate about music from the past, turns into a ghostly tale of scorching revenge.

Carter and Seth, living lives of privilege afforded by Carter's wealthy family, start the nightmare when they upload a recording of an unknown blues singer to the internet. They name the singer "Charlie S
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it
I can't decide if this book deserves one star or five, so I went for three. It's not a perfect novel, which isn't to say it isn't great. It reads like water while being complicated on the verge of convoluted. Hari Kunzro has written something extremely complex and thoroughly readable, but something is missing. My biggest issue with the novel is pacing. The beginning of the book is much more generous than the end-the extreme change that the book goes through in the last 50 pages is extremely inte ...more
Mar 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Before writing this review, I HAD to read what others had said to know if it was just me. This feeling of total disconnection and confusion. As so many reviewers have noted, the first half of the book had me; the complexity of relationships with both family and friends; the history of music and what it can mean to people in their search for self; just who is allowed/able to appreciate a specific style or period of art, in this case blues music of the 20s/30s by a (lovingly?) obsessive, rich, whi ...more
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What is the connection between the listener and the musician? Does it matter that one of you is alive and one is dead? And which is which?

In this brilliant new novel, Hari Kunzru explores these questions. The narrator, Seth, is a dweeby young man who is obsessed with recording sounds during his walks in New York City. One day he happens across an old chess player who is singing a haunting blues song that he can't get out of his mind. He brings the song to Carter, his bestie who comes from an obs
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This was one of the books for which I had reading envy at the end of 2017, because I kept hearing good things and it ended up on so many year-end best books lists. So I cleared space for it in January after it was also shortlisted for the Tournament of Books.

This is an excellent read. It contains that rare element that I do look for, where the author takes you somewhere far from where they started. Although I had heard mentions of this being about music, and about race, I had no idea where it w
"Believe I buy a graveyard of my own..."

Wow, what a powerful, intriguing, and clever book!

I really enjoyed White Tears. It was a complex, rich satisfying bit of historical novel and just desserts. Rich, smug, entitled, self-important, callous people receive their due for sins of the past and present with overtones regarding race, wealth, subjugation, exploitation, and character. This novel is an allegory or fable not just about white privilege, racism, cultural appropriation, inhumanity and gree
Jessica Woodbury
I don't like to read the summary of a book before I read it. I started WHITE TEARS knowing Kunzru from some of his previous works and expecting a smart book on race in America. That is what I got, but it came in a package I wasn't expecting, a literary horror novel, a ghost story with a Blues soundtrack, a tale of class and the evil so much of the country was built upon.

They may call this book a "ghost story" or "magical realism" because those tend to be more literary-friendly words, but I think
Seth is obsessed with music. He hears it in the everyday cacophony of the city street. Each sound emancipating itself, bits parceled into musical arrangements. Awkward around people, he is befriended by Carter, a cock-sure socialite with an obsession for collecting rare Blues recordings. On his travels Seth records a chess player singing in the park. Carter posts it online and passes it off as the lone copy of an unheard of musician by the name of Charlie Shaw. A haunting song, the lyrics become ...more
Apr 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I always enjoy reviewing the books I have read but every so often I come up against one where I honestly cannot think what to say about it! This is one of those books.
I enjoyed it very much - the writing is beautiful - but I would have great difficulty trying to explain what it is about. I suppose it is a ghost story in part, also a bit of horror thrown in - rather like a good Stephen King really. But there is so much more - music, racism, slavery, the cultural divide between rich and poor and m
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now all the hahahahaha's towards the back of the book make sense.

This is truely an ambitious undertaking and deft piece of writing. It starts simply, but then slowly like the frog in the proverbial boiling water, you find your in some shapeshifting, ghostly fantasy novel and your not entirely sure whats going on. But you don't mind as it is flinging little truth bombs at you and your thinking how did Kunzru pull this highwire act off ?.

This is absolutely a novel I could turn around and re
Emily May
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: modern-lit, 2017
A fantastic and clever idea; an execution that left much to be desired.

I've never felt so strongly aware of an author pushing his extensive research on the reader as I was while reading White Tears. Kunzru spares no details as he delves into heavy descriptions of the sound editing process and audio engineering. He name-drops. His characters contemplate music theory ad nauseum. It felt unnatural, like the author was ever-present behind the narrative, showcasing his impressive amount of research i
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whoa, that was awesome. I don't normally get into the supernatural but if they were all written like this, then I'd have a lot of catching up to do. Another book exploring the intense passion of creativity (which reminded me of The Animators) and the intense cruelty and injustice of slavery and the music industry just after the turn of the century. How Kunzru crammed so much history and commentary into this little book is astounding. Now, if only he had used quotation marks, he would have been m ...more
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Anybody singing the blues is in a deep pit yelling for help.
Mahalia Jackson

"White folks hear the blues come out, but they don't know how it got there," said Son House, a Mississippi blues singer who made his start in the 1920s. The blues got there, it is generally acknowledged, via the adapted rhythms and methods of West African natives enslaved in the American South. One of the blues' most customary components came from the group work songs of the plantation slaves who used the African practice
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites

This novel is a tour de force that only an author with writing chops as good as Hari Kunzru's could have pulled off.

It's full of endless unforeseable surprises and twists and turns. The narrative at some points starts to veer uncontrollably between different times and places. Even identities become blurred, with several characters bleeding into each other (literally and figuratively). At one point, a particular character is no longer sure what color he is.

Seth (his name is no accident, I think;
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
Kunzru has plunked a couple young white men—obsessed with the Blues, with audio of all kinds—down into a mysterious, deeply American story of race, music, and violence, one steeped in Murikamiesque juices. Compulsively readable, the best and most important American novel I've read since Beloved—and penned by a biracial Indo-British writer in the US less than a decade! Like me, you might feel woozy, might get lost in this novel. I sure hope so. ...more
I know I talk about books in terms of 'halves' or 'thirds' or 'quarters' a lot. It's something I've been telling myself to do less of. But sometimes it's absolutely necessary, and White Tears is one such case: it's very much a book of two halves.

Seth is an awkward, lonely college student who's obsessed with sound, and traverses New York making recordings of everyday background noise: Carter, who becomes his best friend and business partner, is the black-sheep scion of an obscenely rich family, a
Paul Secor
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Hari Kunzru has written a novel which, at least in part, seems to be a fable about punishment for a family's sins being passed down to its descendants and a friend.
There's also a connected tale which implies that if white folks mess with black music, some sort of hoodoo spell will be laid on them.
I wasn't grabbed by any of that. What I did take from this book is to be wary of novels about rich folks. Rich folks can be boring and treacherous - a deadly combination.
And if I ever see another book w
George Jr.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it did not like it
This is a terrible book. The received stature of the author makes that a surprise, but it is terrible nonetheless.

Nothing against the ambition, which boils down to the question of authenticity, what it is and the dangers of pursuing it to the utmost level of purity. The vehicle is old-time American music, from poor Southern musicians, mostly black and mostly blues players, recorded in the 1920s on labels like Paramount. The characters who carry this are Seth (the protagonist) and Carter, buddies
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As the famous Faulkner quote goes: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”

Old blues recordings, with their staticky crackle and keening vocals, have a certain creepy factor, so making them the basis for a horror/ghost story is a stroke of genius. White Tears’ author, Hari Kunzru, made an awesome Spotify playlist to accompany his book, which I attempted to listen to immediately after reading… I made it through two and a half tracks before hitting STOP, horripilating with genuine unease. He
A masterful book of controlled tension and terror. It's brilliantly-executed on the level of narrative and symbolism. An incredibly layered story about slavery and the prison industrial complex, about black people as property and possessions for the white owners, and draws a line down to record collecting and the music industry in terms of who owns black music. Cultural appropriation as the "liberal" form of ownership. And thus this injustice, embedded in the very core of America, can only be ad ...more
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
this is the first book i read -- but surely there must be others, right? please tell me there are others -- that tackles squarely, that is to say front and center, the theme of whiteness in america (C.E. Morgan's The Sport of Kings does so too, but it taints the effort, in my opinion, by devoting almost half the book to a story told from a black man's point of view, which has always been dicey when done by a white author -- see William Styron's Confessions of Nat Turner-- but seems particularly ...more
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
The first half of the book sets up our hipster duo worshipping at the shrine of old black music. Deemed "more intense and authentic than anything made by white people." Carter is a trust-fund douchebag that sports blond dreadlocks in college while DJ'ing and Seth is a "sonic geologist" riding Carter's monied coattails.

When Seth captures snippets of a song while travelling the city doing field recordings Carter matches it against a guitar riff recorded elsewhere and they fit perfectly together.
Johann (jobis89)
“On your record deck, you played the sound of the middle passage, the blackest sound. You wanted the suffering you didn’t have, the authority you thought it would bring.”

White Tears is the definition of a novel of two halves. There was maybe just a little TOO much going on here, leading to confusion and rereading paragraphs to ensure that you’ve followed exactly what is going on. I just don’t like having to work this hard when I’m reading.

Seth and Carter are two twenty-something New Yorkers who
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Hari Mohan Nath Kunzru (born 1969) is a British novelist and journalist, author of the novels The Impressionist, Transmission and My Revolutions. Of mixed English and Kashmiri Pandit ancestry, he grew up in Essex. He studied English at Wadham College, Oxford University, then gained an MA in Philosophy and Literature from Warwick University. His work has been translated into twenty languages. He li ...more

Articles featuring this book

For as long as people have been telling stories, we’ve spun tales of the monsters and nightmares that lurk in the shadows of our imaginations....
183 likes · 62 comments
“Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of radio, believed that sound waves never completely die away, that they persist, fainter and fainter, masked by the day-to-day noise of the world. Marconi thought that if he could only invent a microphone powerful enough, he would be able to listen to ancient times.” 14 likes
“When you are powerless, something can happen to you and afterwards it has not happened. For you, it happened, but somehow they remember it differently, or don't remember it at all. You can tell them, but it slips their minds. When you are powerless, everything you do seems in vain. You stow your bag, show your ticket, climb the steps. All the sinners climb aboard.” 8 likes
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