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Ballad Of Lee Cotton [Hardcover]

Christopher Wilson

Price: CDN$ 35.00 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

May 31 2005

From his Icelandic father Lee Cotton gets his marble skin and blue eyes. From his mixed-race mother he gains his black identity. From his Mambo grandmother he inherits forebodings about his future. It's a combination that sets Lee apart from the other black kids growing up in Eureka, Mississippi. It marks Lee out as slightly odd. And very white.

If childhood was confusing, adolescence proves life changing when Lee falls in love with the sublime Angelina. It's also life threatening: Angel's father is a freelance shooter for the Klan, who doesn't take kindly to his daughter's boyfriend.

An act of appalling violence leaves Lee far from home with a new identity, a draft card, a memory that operates in flashback and a mental illness that makes him a sort of genius. He also has a reputation, back home, for being dead. Nobody (except possibly his grandmother) could envisage that Lee's rebirth is a headstart and not a handicap. His role in a quite remarkable journey through life will be to transform others as he has transformed himself...


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown (May 31 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316730262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316730266
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,426,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Wilson's winning 20th-century picaresque wanders from the Deep South to the Midwest and on to San Francisco, following its protagonist through multiple and surprising identities. If the locales exude a faint whiff of familiarity, Lee Cotton, the book's shape-shifting main character, has a body (and a mind) that keeps things interesting. Beginning life as a "black soul in a white wrapper," Lee leaves Mississippi after a horrific beating at the hand of a local racist. He passes for white in St. Louis, getting work as a hospital orderly. But fate has more changes in store. A freak accident and doctoring by an "offbeat" surgeon have him embark on a new life as a woman... and then Lee's skin starts to darken. Wilson (Mischief) offers readers both a sharp-eyed, amusing ramble through America from the 1950s to the '70s and a critique of exclusionary identity politics. As Lee tells a heckler late in the book, "All my life I been hounded for being born the wrong color, or the wrong sex, or dating the wrong person, or living in the wrong place. We ain't what we're born. We're what we do with ourselves." Though marred by a somewhat hokey ending, this book is nevertheless very funny, profoundly endearing and highly memorable. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Before he is 30, Lee Cotton experiences life as a black boy, a white man, a white woman, and a black woman. The son of a black woman and a white Icelandic sailor, he was born in 1950 in Eureka, MS. White skin and blond hair notwithstanding, he was raised to know his place in the world. When he has a relationship with the daughter of a local bigot at age 15, he is beaten up by the Ku Klux Klan and left for dead. The staff at the St. Louis hospital to which he is transferred knows him only as a brain-damaged John Doe, and he gets his first taste of life as a white person. His memory returns just in time to be drafted for the Vietnam War. A car accident and misplaced whiskey bottle result in a sex-change operation by a disbarred physician, and, after several years as a white woman, his genes catch up with him and his skin slowly darkens. Farfetched though the plot may be, Wilson writes with an easy grace and humor that make Lee a thoroughly delightful protagonist. The author paints such a compelling picture of the South in the mid-20th century that it is hard to believe that he is British. In introducing Lee, he does far more than spin an irresistible tragicomedy that combines history with flights of fancy–he challenges us to look at what truly defines us if it is not our race, gender, or socioeconomic status.–Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Library System, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who is the real McCoy? Jan. 5 2006
By Debbie Lee Wesselmann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The title character of Christopher Wilson's second novel begins life as a blonde, white, blue-eyed boy born of a black mother. Lee Cotton's problems are compounded by another oddity, his ability to hear the thoughts of both the living and the dead. If that were not enough, Lee discovers that his life holds surprising, even shocking, turns that ensure he will never fit in anywhere. First he survives a brutal, racially motivated assault that leaves him a John Doe, assumed to be white, in a neurological ward, and then, through a series of events, he undergoes major transformations that always leave him different on the outside than on the inside. No matter what guise he assumes, he remains an honest, homespun, good-humored, observant individual--a cross between Forest Gump and Cal from Eugenides's Middlesex. As one character says, "'You're inchoate, Lee. You're plastic; you're protean. What happens next?'"

Lee Cotton, rechristened along the way as Lee McCoy, is a misfit with a down-home attitude who has no idea who or what he is, although he doesn't seem to care much. Some of the other characters are as outrageous as Lee himself: self-destructive Angel who undergoes her own transformations, always one step beyond Lee's; time-traveler Ethan who claims "you can live as many lives as you like, all at once, in parallel"; shrewd reporter and lesbian Fay who wants more than anything to be loved, just once; Angel's father Byron who remains a steadfast bigot despite all the lessons he should have learned; Doc, a mechanic and once famous surgeon who now performs illegal surgery in the back room of a local bar; and grandmother Celeste, a wealthy woman from "N'awlins" who practices voodoo and who later talks to Lee from beyond the grave. The characters, with all their exaggerated qualities, fit well with the tone of the novel, for Wilson is not interested in realism but in theme: no one really belongs in his own world.

At times Wilson stretches the reader's patience with his outlandish plot twists; the sections where the reader must adjust along with Lee to a new reality often cause the narrative to founder. Fortunately for the reader, each time Wilson manages to find his way back to the right balance between character and content through Lee's first person narration and sensibilities which provide an anchor for the reader. Lee's voice ensures continuity even if the narrative details do not. By the novel's end, the reader learns why Lee has undergone these trials, although the somewhat hokey explanation, not entirely unexpected, falls flat because of the shift from the delightful bizarre to a pat inspirational message. Despite the flaws, Cotton remains an inventive and memorable novel precisely because it is so over-the-top. -- Debbie Lee Wesselmann
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I'm bent to N'awlins, which is twisted my way." Nov. 20 2005
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In Eureka, Mississippi, the people are hardy, tough, used to heat, dust and drought, where "needles fare better than leaves". His "genes knitted from rainbow yarns", the light-skinned, mixed-race Leifur Nils Kristjansson Saint Marie du Cotton is born in 1950, Lee Cotton for short. Recessive genes render this southern child a confusing mix, "with buttermilk skin, azure blue eyes and straw-blonde hair". If his color, or lack of, doesn't get him into sufficient trouble, the voices he hears finish confuse him even more. Like his maternal grandmother, Lee is conversant with the spirits, living and dead, their cacophony joined with others in the all-black classroom he attends, making it all but impossible to attend to his lessons. Even in his youth, Lee intuits that his life will never be easy, part black, part white, and nowhere at home.

The future holds some hard knocks for Lee, as he is drawn to dangerous places, his skin color purchasing easy but dangerous passage. The spirit voices encourage his innocent curiosity, but the world is unforgiving, opportunistic and wasteful. Falling in love with the beautiful daughter of a rabid racist, Lee comes close to meeting his Maker, later to pass for white and gain employment in St. Louis, later still to assume yet another identity in San Francisco. Lee's road takes him far beyond the borders of normalcy, even to Nevada as a member of a secret psy-ops team, damaged but determined. This gender-bending tale of one man's changing identity would be grotesque if not for Wilson's humorous and brutally honest prose. From civil rights to Vietnam to feminism, Lee spins from one drama to another, that light-skinned, blonde-haired boy far from home when he pays a final visit home, adding another twist to an already addled past.

This is the South with all its pettiness and prejudices, brutality hiding behind a friendly smile, a man's hand as ready to stab as to shake, general meanness as common as a charm to ward off evil spirits. But these are Lee's people, the good, the bad and the ugly. Born into a world that does not easily accommodate him, Lee confronts every situation with a willingness to survive. Life is not a box of chocolates, nor is his existence simple, but this character has an unquenchable spirit, gripping a gris-gris in his fist as he marches into obstacles that would throw a lesser spirit. Adventure, romp, expose and debacle, the author's imagination conjures up a transcendental man with angelic pretensions, straddling the best and the worst of humanity. On the surface, this skin-color-sexual-orientation-morphing protagonist is patently absurd, but the story is written with such open-mindedness and good humor that it is hard to ignore the very real issues of racism, sexism and life from an ever-changing perspective. Luan Gaines/ 2005.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing main character and plot. May 1 2006
By C. Bennett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This was a very interesting read. The main character, Lee, undergoes several transformations throughout the course of the book. Indeed, it's rather difficult to describe the plot without giving too much of it away. Suffice it to say that this book turned into an unlikely page turner. I highly recommend it in lieu of popular NYT bestseller-type dribble.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I Know This Review is an Outlier, But... Sept. 11 2008
By Read For Life - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book was very slow moving.I originally got it because the story sounded interesting. But if you like a "page turner" or a plot that develops quickly, this is not the book for you. It moved very slow. There is a lot of narration, not dialog. The book was also very hard to follow and figure out what the author was talking about because he describes things and situations in strange ways. The book picks up in pace later, but I really had to struggle to get through the first half. I only kept reading because of all the good reviews here at Amazon.com--hoping things would soon get better. I am sorry, but I never saw all the good things that other reviewers saw.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars worth the read Sept. 8 2008
By Gregory Betts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
my sister begged me to read this book. I finally picked it up just to make her go away and from the first paragraph I was hooked.
I've since sent four copies to friends.

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