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Depiction of African Americans does not ring true

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Ralph This is the first Michael Chabon book I've run away from rather than embraced. In part because the characters, especially the Black characters, seem very untrue. The slang is particularly egregious. And the constant references to "kicks"--isn't that white hipster slang? I feel like the ebonics and jive talking sounds straight out of a blaxploitation film. Almost insulting.


Danielle I enjoyed the book, and I think maybe it was intended as a bit of an "homage" to the era of the blaxploitation genre?


Allen Lee I have mixed feeling about this book. I got a bit of the same feeling about the slang. I just think he's tried too hard to write something comparable to Kav & Clay in his last two novels, and failed. His two pre-K&C novels were both a lot simpler and way better than his last two works. Maybe he just needs to come to terms with the fact that he's never going to write anything as good ever again. There's no shame in that.


Evets262 I was a teacher in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn for ten years in the 60s and 70s. I think Michael Chabon's depiction of the black characters is worthy of high praise. He wrote about the relationship of the Brokeland Records proprietors with great sensitivity.


Andrea The first 50 pages of the book I didn't know who was black, white, male or female. I enjoyed the fluidity of race, gender and sexuality and I think Chabon created fully fleshed out characters. Race was absolutely important but it was never the sole definition of any of the characters. Just as Julie's sexual identity didn't completely define him. These aren't real people, they're characters Chabon created to tell a story, and the story was all the better for them, flaws and all.


Matthew I think all of the characters, including the African American ones, were well rounded in personality and speech. Take for instance, Gwen, who is a highly educated black woman, and who rarely if ever speaks in the vernacular of her husband or of Mr. Jones.

Additionally, the jazz musician, Mr. Jones, likely would have spoken that way because he was a jazz musician from the 1970's who wore vintage suits and had a parrot. His speech would have been part affectation and part simply where he grew up. There are other examples I could give, but I'd rather not make this a dissertation.


message 7: by Matthew (last edited Dec 14, 2012 05:57AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Matthew Andrea wrote: "The first 50 pages of the book I didn't know who was black, white, male or female. I enjoyed the fluidity of race, gender and sexuality and I think Chabon created fully fleshed out characters. Race..."

Exactly. Characters, even if they are in a realist novel, are still just that, they are characterizations, and as such, they are a fictionalized version of reality.


Gregory Rothbard Also to think of Black as one thing is like thinking of Africa as one set of people, this is inherently wrong. Black people, white people, red people, green people, are all human. What makes us who we are is our cultures and our experiences.


Gregory Rothbard Ralph wrote: "This is the first Michael Chabon book I've run away from rather than embraced. In part because the characters, especially the Black characters, seem very untrue. The slang is particularly egregio..."

Also he was paying homage to Black Exploitation films... so, Ralph, he must have gotten this home to you!


Leslie This is the first Chabon book I read and based on my experience, I probably won't read another. The story just didn't rivet me. I found the characters to be more like caricatures...kind of flat and a bit stereotyped. I actually listened to the audio book and the actor, Clark Peters, did an amazing narration. If it weren't for his talent I probably wouldn't have gotten through the whole thing. I just didn't feel anything for any of the characters...


Michele Leslie wrote: "This is the first Chabon book I read and based on my experience, I probably won't read another. The story just didn't rivet me. I found the characters to be more like caricatures...kind of flat and..."

Leslie I agree completely. I listened to the book also and it took me several attempts to get through it.The narrator made all the difference. I have read several other books by Chabon and had reasonable expectations for this book. It was disappointing.


message 12: by Ron (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ron Ratchford This is a geographic specific book linked with a narrow period of time. The neighborhood is a few blocks along Telegraph Avenue and it is the time of the demise of the vinyl record store. It was for me a point in time that is examined with a mixture of memory and regret. It willbe for me a book that I will read again and will listen to others who read it and did not like it.


message 13: by Ralph (new) - rated it 1 star

Ralph Is there an African American Chabon reader in the house?


message 14: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane Ralph wrote: "Is there an African American Chabon reader in the house?"

Yes - I am. I enjoyed Telegraph Ave., Of course language and slang was dated -- he is often writing about older people in an older time. Also he is writing about California blacks who, from my experience living here and in the South, are very different from East Coast blacks. This sounds ridiculous as I write it, but I think most people, including blacks, in west are much less class conscious, therefore they speak in a more classless way than people on East Coast. Also the black community in California is of relatively recent origin, i.e. from 1940's/WWII as opposed to since 1600 (and beyond when you take Spanish colonization into account) in East. I am black but of course my opinions are my own and can't be attributed to all black people of course.


message 15: by Super (new) - rated it 1 star

Super Amanda Ralph wrote: "This is the first Michael Chabon book I've run away from rather than embraced. In part because the characters, especially the Black characters, seem very untrue. The slang is particularly egregio..."
Please read my review. I found the racial stereotypes appalling.


message 16: by Super (new) - rated it 1 star

Super Amanda Matthew wrote: "I think all of the characters, including the African American ones, were well rounded in personality and speech. Take for instance, Gwen, who is a highly educated black woman, and who rarely if ev..." Gwen was a complete stereotype from start to finish.


message 17: by Bruce (new) - added it

Bruce Stewart The audiobook version, ready by Clarke Peters (of The Wire and Treme) is a real treat.


message 18: by Steve (last edited Aug 02, 2013 05:39AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Steve I started with the audiobook, but had to return it to the library. Peters IS fantastic. As for the alleged stereotyping, I didnt see that but I did think Chabon used some phraseology in both dialogue and the interior thoughts from some characters that just wouldnt come from an African American (full disclosure, I am a white male living in Chicago's North side, where I hear the sounds of many different dialects every day). This wan't a perfect novel (a little too nicely wrapped up in a bow story_wise, IMHO), but a fun read that is sensitive to race.


message 19: by Super (new) - rated it 1 star

Super Amanda Ralph wrote: "This is the first Michael Chabon book I've run away from rather than embraced. In part because the characters, especially the Black characters, seem very untrue. The slang is particularly egregio..." have a look at the people who reviewed the book in the MSM, not only avoiding race but calling Chabon a spokesperson for an area he did not move to until he was in his 30s: http://superamanda.blogspot.com/2013/...


message 20: by Sheryl (new) - added it

Sheryl Sorrentino Some people (my hubby included) take issue with books and movies about "minorities" made by white people and (mostly) about white people (Mississippi Burning and Dances with Wolves would be good examples of what he is talking about). But I think we all are better served by writers and artists of all races writing culturally-inclusive stories, especially from the POV of other races/ethnicities. How better to understand one another and give realistic "air time" to cultural reality? I have lots of issues with this book, but so far, the racial aspect isn't among them.


Pablo As a spaniard who doesn't know specific (empirical) details of the United States, I found this book incredibly tolerant and beautiful, a masterpiece, and with a great and refreshing look to a lost world without having lots of sentimentalism into it. It felt complex and grown up, not just moving or cheap.


message 22: by [deleted user] (last edited May 04, 2016 04:52PM) (new)

Super wrote: "Ralph wrote: "This is the first Michael Chabon book I've run away from rather than embraced. In part because the characters, especially the Black characters, seem very untrue. The slang is particul..."

Super wrote: "
Please read my review. I found the racial stereotypes appalling."


Hmm. I certainly appreciate all the effort that went into your review. I've also read several Chabon novels. I find him to be a man who adventures in our multi-cultural world, who walks a mile in someone else's shoes, who takes risks. I didn't find this book as appealing or as well-written as some of his others. But I did not find the racial disparagement you found in this and in Philip Roth's The Human Stain. Should people who have experienced one variety of racial/cultural/gender/whatever bias/hatred not take their own experiences and explore the worlds of others? Not to belittle them, but to try to find commonalities. Shared pain. I understood Gwen entirely. I think Chabon was very clear to delineate when he was speaking of black exploitation films and African-American culture, trying to write his own experience as a Jew into another group's pain.

I think, further, that Philip Roth did the same thing with Coleman Silk, who was raised to pass as a white man. As a Jew, Roth has gone the limits in not only exploring bias against Jews by non-Jews, but Jews who are anti-Semites, and Jews who are anti-Israeli policy. (I can't think of a good word for that, but there was an excellent interview with someone on either BBC or NPR within the last couple of days; a Jew speaking of the difficulty of being a Jew who disapproved of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians and other Islamic countries.)

I think we use the tools we have to explore the world. I do not believe Chabon set out to write the type of belittling book your review seems to see. Are we all off limits to each other? To each other's good-willed curiosity and wish to share experiences? I hope not.

EDIT: I believe fiction is meant to explore the world. Does "Telegraph Avenue" mean the same to me as a novel by James Baldwin? No. Do I find it interesting as a work by a talented writer to explore interactions of culture? Yes. If we forbid well-intentioned fiction, if we call it "non-PC," we limit fiction to autobiography and memoir. I am capable of recognizing what I'm reading. Perhaps, with all best wishes, Amanda, you are afraid there are people who will read this and believe they now know everything there is to know about African-American culture? I suppose, no, I fully realize, there are those poor readers out there, ignorant readers. But we have to aim, as writers, for the best readers.


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Telegraph Avenue (other topics)
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