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Brothers and Keepers [Hardcover]

John Edgar Wideman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 1984
Now in paperback, this is the story of the author and his younger brother who were raised by the same parents in the same environment. Today, John is a college professor and an acclaimed novelist, his brother is serving a life sentence for murder. The author searches for an answer to the searing question of why this is so.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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From Amazon

With novels like Damballah and Hiding Place, John Edgar Wideman began his career in an explicitly modernist vein--indeed, his chronicles of life in the Pittsburgh ghetto of Homewood had more than a trace of a Joycean accent. The autobiographical Brothers and Keepers, however, allowed the writer to find his own voice. Perhaps this dual portrait of the author and his brother Robby--serving, then and now, a life sentence for a murder committed during a bungled robbery--finally forced Wideman to fuse the modernist trappings of his earlier work with the storytelling traditions of African American culture. "My memories needed his," the author recalls. "Maybe the fact that we recall different things is crucial. Maybe they are foreground and background, propping each other up." In any case, the Rashomon-like result is a raw meditation on fate and family, as well as an indictment of our entire notion of crime and (especially) punishment. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Wideman, novelist and professor at the University of Wyoming, seeks to understand how he and his brother, who is serving a life sentence for murder, could have such disparate lives after a childhood together in a Pittsburgh ghetto. Ruthless about himself, particularly about his move into the upper middle-class as a "black intellectual," Wideman characterizes his brother as an intelligent, loving, proud dreamer. He raises "existential questions" about culture, racism and the "grief and guilt of a brother," PW wrote. November
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Wideman's Wide World of Huh? July 18 2004
By Almaz
As a proponent for art that breaks the rules, I was both impressed and confused by Wideman's foray into creative nonfiction. He explores the relationship with his brother, Robby, who was involved in criminal activity and subsequently sent to prison. Wideman engages the reader with detailed descriptions of not only the physical barriers between himself and Robby but the emotional canyons that separated and then, ironically, brought them back together. This work also examines the ways in which race and class affect those most at risk in America, specifically African American men.
At times, the scenes between brothers are eloquent and endearing. However, much of the writing seems stream-of-consciousness, with Wideman switching voices and recalling seemingly random memories. Understanding that this book is Wideman's attempt at answering questions that have plagued him his entire life - self-exploration - as readers, we work through his issues with him. The journey is an arduous one for both writer and reader and if you plan on picking up this book, be prepared to work.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too many techniques distract from the story Feb. 16 2003
I started this book really wanting to like it. From the jacket blurbs it looked like a book right up my alley (creative non-fiction.) Brothers&Keepers seemed like a book where the author had stretched the limits of creative nonfiction -- brought in different perspectives, used different voices, used different narrators. Overall, for me though, the book did not work. Ironically, I don't like the book for the very reason I was attracted to it. I think he went to far in adding new techniques and tricks at the expense of the story I thought he was trying to tell.
Wideman covers just about every possible combination of voice, tense, point of view, and narration. One of the old "rules" of fiction was to keep POV changes to a minimum. This is supposed to help the reader identify with a character and not have to reorient himself or herself and thus "fall out of the story." Likewise, the rules of writing discourage tense changes, hoping to keep a supple continuum going in the reader's mind. But in this book, Wideman wanders all over the place, sometimes shifting three or four times within the same page. (see page 8). Although I admire Wideman for trying this, for me as a reader, breaking the rules had exactly the effect the rulemakers fear -- I fell out of the story and became confused, disoriented, and disinterested.
But If You Must Do It, DO It.
To compound this problem, Wideman makes one more mistake in shifting realities. He doesn't keep it up. The first chapter of the book makes it seem as though we are going to get a heck of a ride, running all over the place looking for the truth. But in the last two sections, Wideman seems to fall into a reporter's notebook and never come out.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Brothers and Keepers July 18 2004
By Derrick
In Brothers and Keepers, John Edgar Wideman uses a range of narrative techniques to unravel the complicated relationship between he and his brother Robert Wideman. These different narrative techniques, such as letter writing, greatly assisted to the overall movement of the novel. Through letter writing, John effectively gives Robert a voice in the novel. The authentic voice of Robby allowed the reader a real portrayal of a man serving prison time as he, in confessions to his brother, reflects on their relationship growing up. Their struggle to discover is apparent through John Edgar Wideman's choice of narrative technique.
Ironically, the most intriguing struggle doesn't occur between John and Robby. As the book moves, the reader becomes a confessional for John Wideman. This underlying theme was the most impressive part of the novel. The attempt to understand John kept me interested as a reader.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling biographic memoir Aug. 5 2001
John Edgar Wideman's brilliant prose breaks through the humdrum of standard biographies and presents readers with a combination of family memoir, true crime narrative, and a scathing indictment of the "justice" system. His own learned, scholarly discourse and his brother's street dialect alternate throughout to give readers a dual perspective of family, culture, and society.
Wideman neither lionizes nor blames his brother, Robert, but not so ironically, he recognizes in his little brother the true modern day romantic: the chance-taker, the rebel with a cause, and the convict who retains his dignity through loss and ordeal.
Nevertheless, I would not undermine or degrade Wideman's book by calling it "uplifting" or "inspirational." There are enough canned chicken-soup books for those who prefer spoonfeeding to hard realism and true brotherly love.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wideman - Guts and Intellect Personified Aug. 18 2003
As a former All-American athlete who graduated from an elite college and worked extensively with at risk youth, I admire John Edgar Wideman's guts, integrity, and intellect in crafting "Brothers and Keepers."
Wideman's obvious literary talents are on display throughout this complex and anguished autobiographical work. How he conjured up the fortitude to tell this story to the world is beyond me. Wideman is a special author and person, and should be respected not only for his literary prowess, but for his honesty and guts as well.
Wideman will admit his flaws and lay his soul bare for us to dissect, analyze, and speculate. Not many high achievers are willing to do that. At the same time, he teaches us a great deal about our justice system, the family, American society, character, the impact of risk and choice, discipline, and talent.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars brothers and keepers: A memoir or therapy session
wideman tells an excellent tale about how two siblings of the same environment can go on to lead totally different lives. One brother is a world reknowned novelist and professor. Read more
Published on July 18 2004 by shawntale
5.0 out of 5 stars Nature/nurture
An extraordinary tale of two brothers. One convicted of murder, another an English professor. Two lives. Two paths taken. Read more
Published on April 2 2003 by Lynne
5.0 out of 5 stars read this book!
this is a devastating, complex work which fully explores the ambiguities surrounding issues of racism, crime, and family in America. Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars Brothers and Keeps
What a poignant,powerful book about the choices we are offered within our lives. I, too, have a younger brother that "did time" for a crime and can share many of the... Read more
Published on Feb. 21 2000 by Kimberly McMaster
2.0 out of 5 stars Guilt is an obnoxious feeling to have when reading.
Brothers and Keepers, in the beginning, was an interesting piece of work, about a man who makes his way to the top in a racist and oppressive society. Read more
Published on Nov. 29 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars powerful book on guilt of success and pain of failure
John Edgar Wideman describes his own success having come from poverty to playing basketball for UPenn, a Rhodes scholarship, and becoming a successful professor and writer with... Read more
Published on April 11 1997
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