21st Century Literature discussion

Counternarratives
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2018 Book Discussions > Counternarratives - Whole Book (Jun 2018)

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
This thread is for discussing any and all parts of the book. Spoilers allowed.

How did these stories fit together for you?
What did you make of the various techniques and approaches Keene used?
What do you think this book has to say about history?


Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
We've been going story-by-story in the Book I thread, but there's no reason for those of you who've finished the book or want to speak more broadly about the book as a whole that comments can't be ongoing here in this thread, as well.

I've been struggling with a way to characterize Keene's writing. How would you characterize the style in which he writes? Does it remind you of any other writers?


message 3: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue Book III was so short compared to the other sections, that I feel like most of the book was already discussed prior to the last few stories.

I found the very last story to be very disturbing. A very personal look at revenge, torture, murder. I found it the most difficult to read of all the stories.

On the whole, I noticed that the stories tended to advance forward in time as the book went on.

I especially liked how the stories showed the personal agency and humanity of each of the main characters. They saw, knew and understood much more than their "owners" suspected.


Beverly | 142 comments I have finished the book and I am still trying to pull my final thoughts together.

I would say that Book 1 were my favorite stories and could be my lover of historical fiction and my knowledge of some of the historical events.

The interesting parts of Book 2 for me is that several stories included person involved in the arts and I was not aware of and needed to do a little research.

While the stories for the most part in Book 1 and Book 2 were about the Black Character expressing their pov of the situation/story Book 3 to me shows that power/being the one in charge often react the same as in past history regardless of race of the who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor.

For me it was the different formats of the stories that helped to elevate my interest and how it seemed that as much thought to the format for a particular story.

This was by first read of a book by John Keene and as it has been said was definitely mind-candy.


Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
Beverly and Sue,
Any thoughts on why you think Keene decided to have a Book III at all?


Beverly | 142 comments Marc wrote: "Beverly and Sue,
Any thoughts on why you think Keene decided to have a Book III at all?"


My simple answer is what goes around comes around - and history never changes just the names/places changes but it is the same over time.

(maybe I am just a little jaded by the politics in the US)


message 7: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue Marc wrote: "Beverly and Sue,
Any thoughts on why you think Keene decided to have a Book III at all?"


Great question!

"Lions" really struck me as being a different sort of story from the rest of the book.

Most of the stories show the pov of a black character - whether a slave or free. And usually in counterpoint to the white narrative. These stories specifically tease out what's going on for the "other" in the story.

But in Lions, you get the sense that both characters are black. The country they are from is unnamed, but is clearly a former colony of the US or Europe - presumably in Africa.

I think Lions shows a shift of power over time. One of the characters was a Prophet for a time. Leading a revolution. The other character was his follower or acolyte - but more than that. They had a very close friendship.

But now through the course of revolution, the follower is now the one with power. And the former Prophet is not just out of power, but out of favor. Imprisoned and tortured by his former follower.

In the context of the full book, I have a couple of thoughts on how this story fits with the whole.

1. A cautionary tale. When former colonies achieve independence through revolution, it can be easy to fall into the same abuse of power that lead to revolution in the first place. I believe history is full of exactly this scenario.

2. An interesting twist that being an oppressor or abuser of power doesn't belong to white people only. The story describes mass killing in a very casual manner - and presumably black people killing other black people. Again, a cautionary tale about how power corrupts.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments In Books I and II we saw history through different eyes than those who have written our text books. Book III, however, is just history that repeats itself over and over, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or color.


Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
Insightful answers all around--I'm really enjoying these discussion threads. We kind of move from slave narratives/historical pieces to free and/or historical black figures to blacks as agents of the system. Strikes me as an ending that could possibly be read as rather cynical--progress within the existing power structures equals the opportunity to become the oppressor. Too dark a reading on my part?

Stumbled across this article recently, which positions Keene's writing as a potential affirmative answer to whether today's writer almost has a moral obligation to base their fiction on past/present reality. Not really sure what I think of the dichotomy underlying the article (at least, the beginning of it).


Beverly | 142 comments Here is a quote from an article I was reading this morning that reminded me of how I felt about the historical research that went into stories and how this history was presented in such capable hands of Keene.

"There is no reason why, in principle, a novel may not have its basis in research that is as comprehensive as that of a scholarly work of history — indeed, there is no reason why the research may not be more comprehensive, and no reason why, in principle, a novelist’s portrayal of the past may not be truer and more accurate than that produced by a scholarly historian."


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2442 comments Great quote Beverly. It makes one think.


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

Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
I think that's why a lot of us are drawn to fiction--it seems to provide an outlet for truth that is not available otherwise. It can inhabit or rewrite history. It can provide insight into the heart and mind in a way that nonfiction does not allow itself. The vicarious experience is one more likely to be understood and remembered. Perhaps...


Kristina | 66 comments I am not sure what to think about Book III. When the story started I was intruiged but then it become more tiresome to read and for my taste it was a bit too long.

All in all, I liked Counternarratives, but I think I missed out so many references and I would have missed more if I would not have read it in a group read. I do not like to research facts and persons than appear in a story, because than I have the feeling to interrupt my reading process, so this made it difficult for me to understand the stories.

I love the idea behind Keene's project, but it is a book you need to take your time for reading.


Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments I was able to go back to this and finish Book III. I had the same feeling as Kristina, although it was intriguing and I enjoyed the first person somewhat poetic prose, I got a bit bored with it and felt it was too long.
Since Keene has used real historical figures and information I often kept thinking, is this fiction, were these real people? In a way I wish I knew if these were real people or not from the start of the story.

Overall, my favorite story was Carmel's, but I feel Book II had stronger stories altogether. It was a very deep and interesting reading, counternarratives, and I will try my hands on another Keene for sure.


message 15: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
Sounds like Book III was almost universally every one's least favorite here in these discussion threads.

Kristina, I definitely think Keene is one of those writers that aims to disrupt your reading process. I know many a reader who do not enjoy that sort of thing. In many cases, I did not learn about the backgrounds until I posted in these threads (or read other posts).

Like you, Jessica, I'm interested in getting my hands on some more of his work.


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