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3.86  ·  Rating details ·  8,920 ratings  ·  599 reviews
A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt str ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published August 17th 1993 by Liveright (first published 1923)
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Mallory This book has some subtle sexual content. Several prostitutes and escorts are alluded to throughout the stories. There is also a decent amount of viol…moreThis book has some subtle sexual content. Several prostitutes and escorts are alluded to throughout the stories. There is also a decent amount of violence in the form of lynchings in the third section of the book, always told as retrospective stories by the characters.

I think, in essence, the theme of the book has to do with boundaries. Black vs. White, Sexuality vs. Chastity, North vs. South, Urban vs. Rural, Religion vs. Secularism, Male vs. Female.

Jean Toomer was bi-racial and raised by the black side of his family in Washington, DC. He was educated before going to Georgia to be a principal. Shortly after this book was published, he began 'passing' as white. Knowing these things about the author, I think, make for reading his interpretations of boundaries more interesting. (less)

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Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recs, 2016
Quiet and eerie, Cane trembles with surreal beauty. Toomer's language is at once lucid and suggestive, his subjects disturbing and anguished; the tension between Toomer's aesthetically appealing prose and his painful subject matter proves to be increasingly unsettling as the book unfolds. Juxtaposing poetry and prose, past and present, north and south, script and narrative, the three-part experimental work of fiction also defies easy categorization, further upsetting readers' expectations and em ...more
My friend knows how infatuated I am with literature from the Harlem Renaissance era, so he called when he included this book on his teaching list. It brought back memories of the many literary socials we had over a few brews on our grad school's verandah: readings, discussions, snippets of music here and there, more readings, which led to social commentary and such, which, in turn, led to just plain chitchat about book preferences and how they affect everyday life; a conversation that lasted pas ...more
Powerful and poetic vignettes of blacks in rural Georgia and immigrants to the Washington D.C. area near the turn of the 20th century. We feel their daily integration with their mind-numbing, dusty work in the cane fields or saw mills and feel their struggle against internalized forms of racism and sexism. In the urban environment, we feel their mix of hopes for promised freedom and of their alienation and despair of continual poverty. Some find a connection in churches to the values from their ...more
Jan 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An astonishingly beautiful, sensual, lyrical, formally experimental book. In character vignettes of one, two, three pages interleaved with short poems, Toomer explores the lives of black people, mostly in the rural south, specifically a tiny hamlet dominated by a sawmill (marked mostly by smells and sounds), sugar cane fields and pines, the timeseason--autumn, the time, dusk. In fact, every story in this collection could be called 'Dusk'--with all its overtones. Though largely rural, a couple of ...more
Apr 04, 2017 added it
Shelves: 20th-century
This is quite a brilliant, remarkable, and odd book that somehow no one told me personally that I should read. Why has the secret been kept? Okay, a recent check confirms that Bloom had it on his Western Canon list. But Toomer's just a name, how was I supposed to know he's actually good?

It is, to a large extent, a portrait of many of the horrors and a few of the beauties of small-town post-slavery but-still-gravely-unjust southern life from a black perspective. It's also an uncharaterizable amal
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, overdrive
"Karintha is a woman. Men do not know that the soul of her was a growing thing ripened too soon. They will bring their money; they will die not having found it out...Karintha at twenty, carrying beauty, perfect as dusk when the sun goes down. Karintha..." This book is a structurally-inventive mix of prose, poetry and drama with beautiful language. This new edition also contains an essay about the question of race and the life and career of the mixed-race Toomer who was an important figure in the ...more
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: atonement
If you have heard a Jewish cantor sing, if he has touched you and made your own sorrow seem trivial when compared with his, you will know my feeling when I follow the curves of her profile, like mobile rivers, to their common delta.

I find it impossible this morning to attempt comment on a lynching or a literary reflection thereof. Despite my tone deaf groaning as of late about dialect, the final parable in this tome touched me. Earnest. Cane is a modernist mélange of prose and verse. A Biblical
robin friedman
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jean Toomer's Cane

Jean Toomer's "Cane" (1933) is one of the lesser-known masterworks of American literature. An enigmatic figure, Toomer (1894 -- 1967) wrote "Cane" at the age of 27 and never published another novel, assuming that "Cane" itself can loosely be so described. The book frequently is described as initiating the Harlem Renaissance, even though Toomer did not live in Harlem when it was written and nothing in "Cane" is set there.

"Cane" is a difficult, modernistic book that resists easy
Tom bound to the stake. His breast was bare. Nails’ scratches let little lines of blood trickle down and mat into the hair. His face, his eyes were set and stony. Except for irregular breathing, one would have thought him already dead. Torches were flung onto the pile. A great flare muffled in black smoke shot upward. The mob yelled. The mob was silent. Now Tom could be seen within the flames. Only his head, erect, lean, like a blackened stone. Stench of burning flesh soaked the air. Tom’s eyes ...more
Jan 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Though not as well known as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer is considered one of the shining stars of the Harlem Renaissance and this collection of short stories and poems is his best work. Published in the early 20's, it shows the influence of many writers of that period who were especially fascinated with the technique of repetition -- sentences, clauses, phrases, words, you name it. It's a tricky skill, as repetition can be both effective and annoying. Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, in ...more
This was a thoroughly strange and surreal book, made all the more surreal by the fact that it was one of the first avant-garde black American novels. Toomer's world explodes with color and light, with shades of Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson. If there is a document of American magical realism, this is it.

It's too easy when describing the rural black South to rely on stereotypes and minstrelsy (Zora Neale Hurston, I'm looking at you). Toomer, to his credit, doesn't, at all. His world is too damn
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Two readerships here for which this one is UEber=pertinent ::

1) readers of the Classics of African=American fiction.
2) readers of things experimental in the category of It's Not Really a Novel (but what then is it?)
3) Also, for readers of I Ain't An African=American Author and I Don't Write Experimental Novels/Stuff.

Really, this is one of the places it all began.
May 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-writers
Jean Toomer’s Cane was published in a small edition in 1923. Despite favourable reviews, Cane was not reprinted until 1927. For the next forty years, it remained out of print. Like a nova, Toomer’s literary career exploded into brilliance with Cane, then faded from the view of all but the few who continuously scanned the literary galaxy. Cane proved to be a swan wong, not only, as Toomer believed, for the folk culture but also for his own writing career, as he only published one small book after ...more
Nancy Oakes
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had no idea that I was going to love this as much as I do.

more soon. I need to think first.
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cane was a lyric essence forced out with great effort despite my knotted state. People have remarked its simply--easy flowing lyricism, its rich natural poetry; and they may assume that it came to bloom as easily as a flower. In truth, it was born in an agony of internal tightness, conflict, and chaos. It is true that some portions, after I had cleared the way, came forth fluently. . . . But the book as a whole was somehow distilled from the most terrible strain I have ever known. . . . The feel ...more
A wonderful, magisterial voice - at its best, up there with Whitman - but young and unfinished. It has that explosive, tightrope feel of some early works by brilliant writers. It's known as the first important black novel of the Harlem Renaissance, which is funny because it's not a novel - it's some sort of weird poem/play/novel hybrid - and Toomer, who was of mixed parentage, didn't identify as black. It's hard to see which he hated and feared the most - women or himself. ...more
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's so difficult to categorize Cane. For the sake of convenience, one could call it a novel, and that is generally how the work is treated. But novel really neither describes the book accurately nor does it justice. Cane is an incantory combination of poetry and prose, vignettes that are loosely held together by the common theme of black American life in rural Georgia at the turn of the twentieth century. But the prose is highly poetic:

"Pine needles, like mazda, are brilliantly aglow. No rain
“Cane” blew me away. Southern literature, in my opinion, contains some of the most powerful and immortal books in the American literary canon. The dark, enchanted history of the South brings forth ample material for colorful characters and complex social issues. Novels born in the South are born out of and into its troubled past–a landscape fraught with the difficult union of charmed myth and bloody reality. Toomer taps into the tragic legacy of slavery to write one of the best, most enduring no ...more
What is the shape of a novel that has withstood the test of time? First written in 1923, Jean Toomer's Cane is an innovative work that rewrites the definition of "novel". Divided in three parts, each part is distinctive not only for its setting but also for its prose. The first is in part vignettes that exude a sexual allure. Seemingly unconnected descriptions of hued women and a landscape bound to the history of slavery are interwoven with bits of poetry and odes that resound like Old Negro spi ...more
Elisa Berry
Mar 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This one is a gem; the writing is gorgeous, the stories absorbing. P-thought of you, this is a definite genre bender with episodic chapters/short stories and poetry, always referred to as a novel. Toomer is often grouped with the Harlem Renaissance and the stories center on the reverse migration of a urban Northern man to the rural South. However, Toomer never worked with black themes again and did not consider himself part of that community. As such the book exhibits a fractured experience and ...more
I enjoyed this. I really think everyone should read at least a couple of poems from this book. Or some of the short stories. My favorite was "Bona and Paul."

Now it's time to write my english paper on this.... :/
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was astonished that I had never heard of this book. I picked it up at random off the shelf at my local library. It is a thin book, poetic, spiritual, and revealing of the black culture in Jim Crow south in the 1920's in America. It is stunning writing. As a person interested in words and letting words carry the narrative, it is simply beautiful. Toomer's care with words carries a narrative of a world which existed, and still exists, parallel to Anglo-Saxon culture. The story, which seems rando ...more
Jan 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
More like 4 1/2 stars, but I'll round up just because I haven't rated any books 5 stars this year yet.

Jean Toomer's Cane really is a "literary masterpiece." I was in awe of his style and form, how he utilizes devices we associate with theater in a novel. I also loved the comparison of the North vs. the South, especially embodied in the last short story, "Kabnis."

I've got to say "The Box Seat" is my favorite story, though, followed closely by "Bona and Paul."

LOVE the Harlem Renaissance!!!
Kevin Shepherd
As a writer, Jean Toomer was an experimenter and an innovator. His style intertwines poetry and prose in such a way that one flows in and out of the other. For me, ‘Cane’ reads like improvisational jazz; there is often a repetition of verse that sounds more like song than soliloquy.

Nowhere is Toomer’s influence more readily apparent than in the work of Langston Hughes. ‘Cane’ is a precursor to Langston’s “The Ways of White Folks” - the two compliment each other so well that they very nearly read
Sep 23, 2020 added it
I only found this mildly interesting and I feel like that's messy to say because it's a classic. (But I read it for class, so.) There was just like... a lot of sexism? And Black women being treated badly for like no reason? And Toomer's whole, "I'm not Black, I'm AN AMERICAN" thing also came out in this. ...more
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting novel. It's a modernist novel. Can't really think of much to say other than I liked the writing. ...more
Jun 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
I like the writing of poems, prose, and short stories in this book. Its so unique. 'Cotton Song', 'Robert', and 'Prayer' my favorites. ...more
Esther Espeland
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was so beautiful! Slow going bc it is a Piece Of Literature but I loooved the poetry. My first time reading a composite novel
Jul 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Toomer had an interesting pedigree: he was considered a Northerner by many Southerners, and a Southerner by many Northerners. This was in part because both of his grandmothers were left plantations by white men, making them among the most prosperous citizens in the dirt poor communities around Sparta, Georgia. Toomer spent some summers with his grandmothers during childhood and even was the principal of a school in Sparta for a short time before leaving for Paris.

From this perspective, he wrote
Bam cooks the books ;-)
#2016-usa-geography-challenge: GEORGIA

Published in 1923 during 'The Harlem Renaissance,' this slim volume is a collection of short stories, vignettes and poems in the modernist style of that era, expressing 'the pain and beauty of the South.' The first group is set in rural Georgia, the second in Washington DC and Chicago and the last story (part three) entitled 'Kabnis' appears to be somewhat autobiographical--about a northern black man who moves to Georgia to teach in the turbulent times of se
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Jean Toomer (December 26, 1894 – March 30, 1967) was an American poet and novelist and an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance and modernism. His first book Cane, published in 1923, is considered by many to be his most significant. Of mixed race and majority European ancestry, Toomer struggled to identify as "an American" and resisted efforts to classify him as a black writer.

He continued to

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“Men are apt to idolize or fear that which they cannot understand, especially if it be a woman.” 25 likes
“Her Lips Are Copper Wire”

whisper of yellow globes
gleaming on lamp posts that sway
like bootleg licker drinkers in the fog

and let your breath be moist against me
like bright beads on yellow globes

telephone the power-house
that the main wires are insulate

(her words play up and down
dewy corridors of billboards)

then with your tongue remove the tape
and press your lips to mine
till they are incandescent”
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