Brothers and Keepers Hardcover – Oct 1984
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
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 morePublished on July 18 2004 by shawntale
An extraordinary tale of two brothers. One convicted of murder, another an English professor. Two lives. Two paths taken. Read morePublished on April 2 2003 by Lynne
this is a devastating, complex work which fully explores the ambiguities surrounding issues of racism, crime, and family in America. Read morePublished on Feb. 24 2000
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 morePublished on Feb. 21 2000 by Kimberly McMaster
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 morePublished on Nov. 29 1999
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