(Yes I'm late on the reviews but will complete at least 15. This I vow!)
White Nights, Black Paradise by Sikivu Hutchinson
I sort of had mixed feelings coming into this novel because Jim Jones is not the most likeable figure in American history. He's a cult leader who not only killed his flock but much of that flock was black and poor. So imagine my surprise when I came away from the novel kind of liking the dude minus the slaughtering drug fueled paranoia that ended in Jonestown, of course. It's also a frankly brilliant debut fiction effort by Sikivu Hutchinson, who, for my money, is probably the most talented African American atheist/Humanist writer on the scene and has done something that the white Four Horsemen have never done: write a really good novel. She's also seriously good looking which probably isn't fair. But I digress.
The novel is a constant explosion of ideas and you could write a critical book just discussing all of them. My copy of her novel is just riddled with notes and yellow highlighter. Here are the notes just from the first 13 pages or Chapter One: There's a woman who's thankful that she got an abortion and found it a relief. The Jim Jones church was an extremely progressive church that actually helped black people, or at least, if the novel reflects reality, wanted to help black people. (Jim Jones adopted a black male, which is going the distance. I also found myself checking Wikipedia just to see which parts are true. Yes that black adopted son exists even though he has disavowed the church, again of course...) There's a black character who openly espouses her atheist viewpoint where she says, in part: "...I don't believe in God. You know I don't have any tolerance for magical shit." And as a black atheist person who reads and watches tv and movies I don't think I've ever heard a black person openly espousing their atheism. And the whole book is like that. You're just reading things and perspectives that you've never seen before uttered by black characters. It's almost the Anti Oprah in terms of its intellectual approach to the world. (Side note: There's an attempt to turn this into a tv series and boy if a black director wanted to make his or her mark doing some completely shocking television this would be the book you could turn into your HBO/AMC produced episode version of "The Wire". )
That's just scratching the surface of all the great ideas. At my own blog I might go into some of the other issues about how the novel sort of describes a dying black press (I say that as an ex Pittsburgh Courier reporter who was fired for attempting to unionize...) or this perplexing question: if you're a progressive atheist and really want to help black people are you better off just lying about religion like Jim Jones, who in the novel used the Bible as simply a tool to teach about class struggle, or do you tell people the truth about that "magical shit"? The novel strongly suggests that if you want to reach black people lying your ass off might be the way to go. For a higher good of course...
Bottom line, really a fount work put forth by
. It's really a must read if you
consider yourself a black intellectual. Its kind of like if Lorraine Hansberry
was resurrected and she started to write novels. (Hoping that Sikivu doesn't
smoke.) We'll still be talking about the ideas here for decades to come. Highly
recommended. Really beyond Five Stars. Should immediately be placed in the must
read "canon" along with "Invisible Man" and "Native
Son". It's that good and she even rewrote some of it to make it
"better" than the first draft I have. You know, on Facebook and
Twitter, I've asked Sam Harris to write the fictional atheist version of
"Handmaid's Tale" or "1984", preferably as an "Animal
Farm" like allegory or even science fiction. (No one can hear you scream
about fundamentalism in space...) So that atheists would have our own metaphor
for what we find troubling. Perhaps I've been asking the wrong writer to do
PS: Here is the excellent promo piece that was done for the novel on Youtube.