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Brothers And Keepers
John Edgar Wideman
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Brothers And Keepers

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  684 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
With novels like Damballah and Hiding Place, John Edgar Wideman began his career in an explicitly modernist vein--indeed, his chronicles of life in the Pittsburgh ghetto of Homewood had more than a trace of a Joycean accent. The autobiographical Brothers and Keepers, however, allowed the writer to find his own voice. Perhaps this dual portrait of the author and his brother ...more
Published (first published 1984)
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We Supposed to Die

Complicated family history can be wretched. If the complicated family history is that of a black American, it can well be unendurably tragic. John Edgar Wideman has such a family history: a brother sentenced to life imprisonment for murder in 1977; a son sentenced to life imprisonment for murder in 1986 (recently paroled); an uncle shot and killed in his own house. Being black in America exaggerates and accelerates all the typical problems of family life. And then adds a whole
This was a really good book. I liked it alot. Very different than anything I have ever read. The authors brother is serving a life sentence in prison for his part in a botched robbery of people who they were fencing hot TV's too. Although the brother was not the trigger man he still recieved a life sentence. The author who is ten years older and was not close to his younger brother writes the book with his brother to determine how their paths differed and where the decisions were made to go diff ...more
Erika Monaghan
Aug 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wideman's writing is so descriptive and so vivid, I felt transported back to 1975. He painted the painful situation of his brother's time in jail so intensely, I had to do some further research on whether Robby got out. Unfortunately, he is still incarcerated and has been partitioning for a pardon for many years. I really enjoyed this memoir. Tragedy did not end with Robby being in prison, John Wideman's middle son is also serving life sentence for a 1985 murder. I would like to read some of Wid ...more
Dec 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although I have a special place in my heart for this author (he's from Pittsburgh), Brothers and Keepers is a beautifully written memoir nonetheless. Mr. Wideman offers a thoughtful account of his family and his relationship with his brother Robby...a story of two brothers who come from the same family, same background, but take two very different paths. I can put this one down and read it again two years never gets old!
Mar 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
"You never know exactly when something begins. The more you delve and backtrack and think, the more clear it becomes that nothing has a discrete, independent history; people and events take shape not in orderly, chronological sequence but in relation to other forces and events, tangled skeins of necessity and interdependence and chance that after all could have produced only one result: what is."

Brothers and Keepers is the memoir of John Wideman and his brother, Robby. Robby is serving a life se
Benjamin Vu
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for an assignment for my English class. The book probed my interest at first, but was unable to fully capture it and I set the book down to be read later. When I picked it up again, I found myself connecting with John and began to develop a sense of what it was like to pass through those walls every visit. I appreciated Robby's part of the story because I could sympathize with him and his perspective created conflicting emotions between what John felt about him and what I, the r ...more
Ally Armistead
Oct 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why did I not discover John Edgar Wideman sooner? Wow: "Brothers and Keepers" is haunting, searing, and one of the most wonderful memoirs I've ever read. In "Brothers," Wideman revisits the incarceration of his younger brother, the pain, the misunderstanding, and, at its root, a lingering discrimination in this country.

What is most moving--to this reader--is Wideman's brutal honesty, including his own discomfort with his brother, with visiting him in prison, and with--at its heart--finding a way
Jul 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ahh, I'm torn about this book. It might be four stars.

I liked the way the voices of the two brothers went in and out, and I liked the way Wideman used the structure to question his own decisions and perspective as a writer, interviewer, storyteller, brother, husband, prison visitor. In general, I found the dialogue between the two voices to be thoughtful and illuminating. And, unlike Philadelphia Fire, I felt like I mostly understood what was going on. Which is certainly a plus.

On the other hand
Feb 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mem-wires
wideman's language is so easy on a reader, but the words carry so much with them. he tells you about his brother and who they are to one another and how they got that way. but he's a professor and a black man married to a white woman and a father living in the northwest while his brother is in prison for a killing back on the east coast so it's not just some professorial memoir. wideman explores what it means to be who he is, what he represents to others and how he and his brother came from the ...more
Leah Pileggi
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read it. Especially if you are from Pittsburgh. Especially if you have a sibling. Especially if you are related to someone who is or has been incarcerated. Especially if you have any interest at all in race relations or poverty or the criminal justice system. Just read it.
Rebecca Thatcher-Murcia
I picked up this book because I am fascinated by the question of what causes some young people to succumb to the poverty of their surroundings while others stay on the straight and narrow and get out. Wideman's reflection on his brother's downfall and life prison sentence is heartbreaking and fascinating. I would like to know why Wideman's life turned out so differently--I think basketball had something to do with it. Having read my first Wideman book, I am eager for more.
A.S. Minor
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book. Wideman managed to broach sensitive subjects like racism in a very creative way. This book really makes you see through the eyes of Robby (The brother).
Karon Luddy
Jun 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
May 20, 2004
Karon Luddy

“The frame through which I viewed the world changed too, with time. Greater than scene, I came to see is situation. Greater than situation is implication. Greater than all these is a single, entire human being, who will never be confined in any frame”
Eudora Welty

This is a memoir of two brothers, one behind real bars and the other behind unreal bars. It’s both a ballet and an opera—or perhaps a long blues song with intermittent tap dancing. It’s a theatrical shuck and jiv
Ty Morris
May 16, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

Brothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman was written in order to provide a story that broken families can relate to. It was also written in order to spread the author and his brother's hatred for the United States criminal justice system and their backwards political beliefs. Themes of this book include sadness and anger. Sadness can be seen among the family members who are greatly affected by John Wideman's brother's poor decisions. Anger is an apparent theme expressed through the Widemans' h
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very sad account of two black brothers- John, a university professor and writer (the author) and Robby, serving time for participating in a crime where a man was killed (he was not the trigger man.) Issues of race are explored and the disadvantages that make it harder for minorities to find success.
"A healthy, handsome son, a good loving wife, the sort of family unit and simple, everyday life Robby dreams of now, were once within his grasp. But it all came too soon. He wasn't ready. He blew it
Wideman told the story of his brother Robby who has spent years in prison for murder. Of course John was an intricate part of the book, being that he was the author. At the on set, John said "I felt much more confident borrowing narrative techniques learned from fiction than employing a tape recorder" (ix). That is while talking with his brother.John and Robby exchanged discourses while the former visited his brother in prison. One such technique would be John writing as Robby, from the first-pe ...more
Lisa Sheffield
Reading this for our Let's Talk About It group. Looks a bit grim, but it is a memoir, not fiction like the other books in the series. Update - I am really glad i read this. It isn't a book i would have picked up to read and it certainly gives you a look at a slice of life that I am not at all familiar with. It is the story of brothers -- one well educated, successful and a man who "got out" and the other, the youngest, had a complex about living up to the success of his older brother and other s ...more
John Edgar Wideman is black and became an English professor. His 10-year-younger brother, Robby, robbed and murdered someone in 1975 and is in prison for life. The author decided to write Robby's story, including visits to the prison and how it all affected John himself.

I originally liked the author's writing style at start of book (he is apparently normally a fiction writer) – at that point, it was more focused on himself and how Robby's actions affected him. However, I didn't like Robby's sto
Mar 05, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a selected reading for the Lets Talk About It group at our local library. When I read the synopsis of the story on the back of the book, I was really excited to start the book. Very quickly that feeling changed. The back cover states" A haunting portrait of lives arriving at different destinies ... Memoir about two brothers- one an award winning novelist, the other a fugitive wanted for robbery and murder."
While the story was interesting, I felt that the whole racial " woe is me" aspec
Sep 18, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The story of two brothers one of whom was part of a robbery that killed a man and is serving a life sentence. The good brother is a professor and loves taking purple flights of over intellectualizing everything. The first part of the novel crawls along as the good brother (the author) sets how anguished and conflicted and blah blah blah he is. The middle moves along because the bad brother tells the story who thankfully uses a lot less adjectives and a lot more verbs. This part of the story cook ...more
Susan Katz
Feb 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
This probing exploration of how the same family situation could produce both a noted scholar/author and a prisoner involved in a robbery-turned-murder presents much of its material from the viewpoint of Robby, the brother in prison. The book provides psychological insight as well as an indictment not only of the prison system but of the social conditions of poverty and racism which feed that system. For Robby crime was to some extent his way of living life on his own terms, the terms of the stre ...more
Jul 04, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
while knowing that i could not write as well, i am nonetheless not thrilled with Wideman's writing style, all his wee repetitive sentences. the book was first worse than i expected then better than the worsening led me to expect, like an uneven U shape. i wanted more. it did a good job of making prison real and physical beyond the stereotypes, making me neither pity nor respect the brother, though in some parts the lamentations seemed excessive-- he did kill someone, so is he proposing no punish ...more
Feb 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jahmila Smith
At first this book started off slow for me, and it took me awhile to really get into it. I really loved this book once I started reading Robby's part, and his breakdown of what happened that led to the murder. I kind of sympathized with him the entire book and towards the end of the book you definitely felt a sense of growth that had occurred within him. Johns part wasn't my favorite, but it was nice to get his input about how he was feeling and the constant battle he was facing, a conflict betw ...more
Donna Spencer-storie
The author does a wonderful job of "painting the picture" of his experience of going to visit his brother who is in prison. You can "feel" his emotions and "see" what he envisions. The sections where he records the life experience of his brother's life sentence are a little more plodding to get through......some of the "expressions" of that life are not familiar to me so am a less able to "picture or feel" it. There is no denying the frustration/the bonds/the love that exist between the two. Rea ...more
Katie E Linder
I read this book for a class on race narratives and the legal system. I liked the part of the book that talks about the relationship between the two brothers, but I disliked the parts where the author is openly sexist. If you do read this, make sure you contextualize it by googling the author. Further narratives of his family shed more light on his comments in this books about the difference between himself, a college professor, and his brother, a prisoner on death row.
The book starts at a very slow pace although the plot is very compelling. Halfway way through only it picks up pace when Robby the authors brother starts to narrate his story. It feels like a real TV series which sites the difficulties faced by the black community through the 60's and 70's. The writing is actually the way in blacks talk. I was about to leave the book halfway because of the slow start. But I'm happy that I finished.
Rae Hittinger
This book is very compelling and gives me some insight into the public schools where I teach. A true story of two brothers, one an author and professor, the other spending a life sentence in prison for robbery and murder. There are some parts where I wish the author didn't talk abotu his inner motives so much, and I question his ability to be truly objective in writing this book.
May 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
anna, if you're interested in more prison reading, this book is great. a true story, one brother is j. e. wideman, renowned author and professor, the other brother is doing a life sentence for murder. the book traces how they took such different paths, and the effects of the judicial system on inmates from a very interesting perspective.
Jennifer Ciotta
Oct 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wideman does some great writing here. His brother Robby, serving a life sentence, contributes some great writing too. Educated black man vs. street black man. The two points of view worked well together. I had a problem with Wideman referring to his brother as courageous in certain parts. But overall, it is a deeply personal look into prison life.
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A widely-celebrated writer and the winner of many literary awards, he is the first to win the International PEN/Faulkner Award twice: in 1984 for Sent for You Yesterday and in 1990 for Philadelphia Fire. In 2000 he won the O. Henry Award for his short story "Weight", published in The Callaloo Journal.

In March, 2010, he self-published "Briefs," a new collection of microstories, on Stories
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