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Cane

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  7,077 ratings  ·  375 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 January 1st 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…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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Michael
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, favorites
Quiet and eerie, composed near the start of the Harlem Renaissance, 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 categorizat ...more
Michael
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
Janet
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
Zadignose
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
...more
Faith
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
Jonfaith
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018project
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
...more
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.
Andrew
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
...more
leynes
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
Ken
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
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
Whitney
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.... :/
Keith
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
Mark
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
...more
Abby
“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
Katie
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!!!
Rebecca
Nov 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish I studied this book in college. Cane is a fragmented piece of art composed of prose, poetry, and drama. I've never read anything like it before. The language is beautiful and rich. I needed to consume it in small bites so it didn't overwhelm me.
Bam
#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
...more
Maureen
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
...more
Phil Overeem
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It is no wonder Alice Walker was deeply inspired by this slender but powerful, poetic, and quietly damning book.
Will
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A mix of Tender Buttons and Winesburg, Ohio. You can hear Gertrude Stein all over: "Emptiness is a thing that grows by being moved." On the same page, "Her mind is a pink meshbag filled with baby toes." Later, "Life is water that is being drawn off."
Pierce
Apr 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Mairin gave me this after I expressed some tiredness with the lack of artistry in some of what I've been reading lately. And yes, it was very powerfully and beautifully written.

Harlem Renaissance is a new area for me. There's this wonderful naturalness and earthiness to the writing. It's odd, because my first thought was that these people are not of this land, and have been forcibly located here only a few generations earlier, and yet there is a deep harmony with the place they occupy, if not t
...more
Lara
Jun 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
I read this for the first time as an undergrad. It didn't appeal to me then, but this time 'round, things were a bit more clear. I think that the most important issue this novel touches is that of identity. For Toomer himself, this was a huge problem. We see this come to the surface in many (if not all) of his character sketches.

The jagged style of writing is a bit confusing for many, but for your students, relate it to the movements of jazz music and the lights turn on.

This is a stunning exampl
...more
Alex
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.
Kimball
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Kimball by: Larry Hansen
This book was OK. I didn't understand why poetry was interjected in the middle of the story. It made it hard to follow. But even if there wasn't poetry it still would have been hard to follow. Oh well.

I liked the last two hours of the book that described the history of why the author wrote it as well as a good background to it all. I found that more interesting than the book itself. Don't know why it was so long though.

I tried. No one can say I didn't try.
Travelling Sunny
Gorgeous, insightful poetry mixed in with short micro-stories that combine to create a rich impression of life for black folks in the south after the Reconstruction.

The last third of the book was comprised of a single story line that I just couldn't quite connect to. But, the first two-thirds was brilliant. And I typically don't even like poetry.
Matt
Feb 15, 2008 rated it really liked it

This is a key piece of Harlem Renaissance proestry and its detailed and eloquent and beautiful and haunting and mellifluous...
Caroline
Aug 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
And that big fat afterword, a big fat plus.
míol mór
Un capolavoro assoluto, un'opera unica in quello che forse fu il decennio d'oro della narrativa statunitense; qui pubblicato in un'ottima edizione.
Dicono sia fuori catalogo; ma se vi capita di averlo per le mani (biblioteche, bancarelle, prestiti, furti...) questo �� un libro che vale assolutamente la pena di leggere.

Nathan Eugene "Jean" Toomer, nipote per parte di madre del primo governatore di colore della Louisiana (che guardacaso fino a quel punto si era dichiarato bianco), pass�� infanzia
...more
No Books
Un capolavoro assoluto, un'opera unica in quello che forse fu il decennio d'oro della narrativa statunitense; qui pubblicato in un'ottima edizione.
Dicono sia fuori catalogo; ma se vi capita di averlo per le mani (biblioteche, bancarelle, prestiti, furti...) questo è un libro che vale assolutamente la pena di leggere.

Nathan Eugene "Jean" Toomer, nipote per parte di madre del primo governatore di colore della Louisiana (che guardacaso fino a quel punto si era dichiarato bianco), passò infanzia e g
...more
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African-American ...: June '17 BBR: Cane 5 13 Jun 13, 2017 01:45PM  
USA Geography Cha...: Cane by Jean Toomer 1 2 Mar 17, 2016 02:47PM  
  • The New Negro
  • Home to Harlem
  • Black No More
  • The Norton Anthology of African American Literature
  • Quicksand and Passing
  • Maud Martha
  • Mumbo Jumbo
  • Uncle Tom's Children
  • Corregidora
  • Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral
  • Why Write?
  • The Ways of White Folks
  • Selected Poems
  • The Complete Stories
  • The Blacker the Berry...
  • The Marrow of Tradition
  • The Springs of Affection
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
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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.” 22 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”
10 likes
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