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Juneteenth [Audio Cassette]

Ralph Ellison , John F. Callahan , Peter Jay Fernandez
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 2000 0788743090 978-0788743092 Unabridged
Juneteenth, the Senator said, closing his eyes, his bandaged head resting beneath his hands. Words of Emancipation didn't arrive until the middle of June, so they called it Juneteenth. . . .

In Washington, D.C., in the 1950s, Adam Sunraider, a race-baiting senator from a New England state, is mortally wounded by an assassin's bullet while making a speech on the Senate floor. To the shock of all who think they know him, Sunraider calls out from his deathbed for Hickman, an old black minister, to be brought to his side. The Reverend is summoned; the two are left alone. Out of their conversation, and the inner rhythms of memories whose weight has been borne in silence for many long years, a story emerges. For this United States senator, once known as Bliss, was raised by Reverend Hickman in a religion- and music-steeped black community not unlike Ralph Ellison's own childhood home.    He was brought up to be a preaching prodigy in a joyful black Baptist ministry that traveled throughout the South and the Southwest. Together one last time, the two men retrace the course of their shared life in "an anguished attempt," Ellison once put it, "to arrive at the true shape and substance of a sundered past and its meaning." In the end the two men arrive at their most painful memories, memories that hold the key to understanding the mysteries of kinship and race that bind them, and to the senator's confronting how deeply estranged he has become from his true identity.
Juneteenth draws on the full richness of America's black cultural heritage, from the dazzling range of vernacular sources in its language to the way its structure echoes the call-and-response pattern of the black church and the riffs and bass lines of jazz. It offers jubilant proof that whatever else it means to be a true American, it means to be "somehow black," as Ellison once wrote. For even as Senator Sunraider was bathed from birth in the deep and nourishing waters of African-American folkways, so too are all Americans.
That idea is the cause for which Ralph Ellison gave the last full measure of his devotion. At the time of his death, he was still expanding his novel in other directions, envisioning a grand, perhaps multivolume, story cycle. Always, in Ellison's mind, the character Hickman and the story of Sunraider's life from birth to death were the dramatic heart of the narrative. And so, with the aid of Ellison's widow, Fanny, his literary executor, John Callahan, has edited this magnificent novel at the center of Ralph Ellison's forty-year work-in-progress--Juneteenth, its author's abiding testament to the country he so loved and to its many unfinished tasks.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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From Amazon

Invisible Man, which Ralph Ellison published in 1952, was one of the great debuts in contemporary literature. Alternating phantasmagoria with rock-ribbed realism, it delved into the blackest (and whitest!) corners of the American psyche, and quickly attained the status of legend. Ellison's follow-up, however, seemed truly bedeviled--not only by its monumental predecessor, but by fate itself. First, a large section of the novel went up in flames when the author's house burned in 1967. Then he spent decades reconstructing, revising, and expanding his initial vision. When Ellison died in 1994, he left behind some 2,000 pages of manuscript. Yet this mythical mountain of prose was clearly unfinished, far too sketchy and disjointed to publish. Apparently Ellison's second novel would never appear.

Or would it? Ellison's literary executor, John Callahan, has now quarried a smaller, more coherent work from all that raw material. Gone are the epic proportions that Ellison so clearly envisioned. Instead, Juneteenth revolves around just two characters: Adam Sunraider, a white, race-baiting New England senator, and Alonzo "Daddy" Hickman, a black Baptist minister who turns out to have a paradoxical (and paternal) relationship to his opposite number. As the book opens, Sunraider is delivering a typically bigoted peroration on the Senate floor when he's peppered by an assassin's bullets. Mortally wounded, he summons the elderly Hickman to his bedside. There the two commence a journey into their shared past, which (unlike the rest of 1950s America) represents a true model of racial integration.

Adam, we discover, was born Bliss, and raised by Hickman in the bosom of the black community. What's more, this rabble-rouser was being groomed as a boy minister. ("I tell you, Bliss," says Hickman, "you're going to make a fine preacher and you're starting at just the right age. You're just a little over six and Jesus Christ himself didn't start until he was twelve.") The portion of Juneteenth that covers Bliss's ecclesiastical education--perhaps a third of the entire book--is as electrifying as anything in Invisible Man. Ellison juggles the multiple ironies of race and religion with effortless brilliance, and his delight in Hickman's house-wrecking rhetoric is contagious:

Bliss, I've heard you cutting some fancy didoes on the radio, but son, Eatmore was romping and rampaging and walking through Jerusalem just like John! Oh, but wasn't he romping! Maybe you were too young to get it all, but that night that mister was ten thousand misters and his voice was pure gold.
In comparison, though, the rest of the novel seems like pretty slim pickings. For one thing, much of the plot--including Bliss's transformation from pint-sized preacher to United States senator--is absent. For another, Ellison's confinement of the two top-billed players to a hospital room makes for an awfully static narrative. Granted, he intended their dialogue to exist "on a borderline between the folk poetry and religious rhetoric" (or so he wrote in his notes). But this is a dicey recipe for a novel, and Juneteenth veers between naturalism and hallucination much less effectively than its predecessor did.

None of this is to assail Ellison's artistry, which remains on ample display. The problem is that Callahan's splice job--which well may be the best one possible--remains weak at the seams. So should readers give Juneteenth a miss? The answer would still have to be no. The best parts are as powerful and necessary as anything in our literature, evoking Daddy Hickman's own brand of verbal enchantment. "I was talking like I always talk," he recalls at one point, "in the same old down-home voice, that is, in the beloved idiom... [and] I preached those five thousand folks into silence." Ellison, too, is capable of preaching the reader into silence--and that's not something we can afford to overlook. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

When Ralph Ellison died in 1994, he left behind a manuscript he'd been working on since the '50s. John Callahan's introduction to this long-awaited edition explores Ellison's life and the history of this second novel (after, of course, the classic Invisible Man), cataloguing such disasters as the near-finished manuscript being destroyed in a fire in 1967. The novel turns out to have survived the many obstacles to its birth, for after a rather windy beginning, Ellison writes beautifully, in the grand, layered Southern tradition. The narrative begins in 1950s Washington, D.C., with Adam Sunraider, a race-baiting senator who is gunned down on the Senate floor while a man named Hickman watches in the gallery. Rushed to the hospital, Sunraider requests Hickman's presence, and the story of the two men's agonized relationship is told in flashbacks as Hickman attends the dying senator. Decades before, Alonzo Hickman was an ex-trombone player turned circuit preacher raising a young boy of indeterminate race named Bliss.The boy assists Hickman in his revivals, rising out of a white coffin at a certain moment in the sermon. Bliss grows up to change his name to Adam Sunraider and, having passed for white, has gone from being a flimflam artist and movie maker to the U. S. Senate Always, however, he is in flight from Hickman. These flashbacks showcase Ellison's stylized set pieces, among the best scenes he has written, especially as his incandescent images chart the mysteries and legacies of slavery. Bliss remembers his courtship of a black woman in a piercingly sweet reverie, and he revisits a revival meeting on Juneteenth (June 19), the date in 1865 on which slaves in Texas were finally informed of the Emancipation Proclamation. The sermon in this section is perhaps the highlight of the novel, sure to achieve classic status on its own merits. The revival meeting is interrupted by a white woman who claims Bliss is her son, after which Bliss begins his odyssey for an identity that takes him, by degrees, away from the black culture of his youth. Gradually, we learn of the collusion of lies and violence that brought Bliss to Hickman in the first place. Editor Callahan, in his informative afterword, describes the difficult process of editing Ellison's unfinished novel and of arranging the massive body of work into the unwieldy yet cohesive story Ellison wanted to tell. The difficulties he faced are most obvious in the ending, which is Faulknerian to a fault, even to the overuse of the word "outrage." Nonetheless, this volume is a visionary tour de force, a lyrical, necessary contribution to America's perennial racial dialogue, and a novel powerfully reinforcing Ellison's place in literary history. 100,000 first printing; BOMC double main selection.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
This book reads exactly like what it is: a book Ellison worked on off and on for most of his life, and never finished. Only after he died did someone piece together his drafts into a "finished" novel. Of course, it isn't finished--or Ellison would have sent it off to the publisher himself. This explains why it meanders forever in spots, and doesn't have (in my opinion) a satisfactory end.
All that aside, I don't agree that this book is "unreadable" or a waste of time. Ellison always had powerful things to say about race in America, and a mastery of language to bring to the task.
Ellison's point in Juneteenth is that Blacks are martyrs in their acceptance of the suffering imposed on them by whites, and that whites are irredemably evil--and, if I read the end right, damned to spend eternity in hell as a result.
Apparently this is true even if whites "see the light", are reborn black, and raised black--as Bliss--one of the books two real characters--as, most obviously through nightly staged "resurrection" out of the coffin, but at least symbolically at birth, and then again when he suffers an almost fatal illness as a very young child. Despite these early influences, as soon as Bliss reached adolesence, he abandoned blacks, turned white, and became a populist racist demagogue politician.
In contrast, Daddy Hickman (the other character) undergoes his own salvation (turning, through the influence of Bliss' birth and near fatal illness) from a life of a road musician to become a man of god. Even as a traveling preacher, he becomes more Christ-like, in contrast to the typical portrayal in literature (and movies) of white evangilists as charltain hustlers.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Complex, brilliant, choppy, hard to read.... Sept. 3 2000
From over 2000 pages of manuscript, John Callahan, the literary executer of Ralph Ellison's estate has done his best to patch together what might have been Ellison's last great novel. Unfortunately while some of the prose is wild and beautiful in Ellison's way, the whole of this effort may leave the reader with a very choppy, unhinged body of work. The basis of the story is a good one, young white boy (Bliss) adopted and raised by big African American southern preacher (who is also something of a con - part and parcel), Alonzo Z. Hickman, boy becomes first a scam artist (in the guise of a movie maker) then a horribly racist US Senator (Allan Sunraider).... book begins when the then old preacher comes to Washington DC with a group of his more elderly churchgoers to visit with the Senator ('before it's too late") and is not allowed to see him. The group with the preacher are in the Senate Gallery days later when a young man near them stands up and peppers the Senator with bullets. The body of the book is a compilation of stream of consciousnesses, dialogues, monologues, conversations, and described situations during Bliss's/Sunraider's life. In Ellison style, much of the book is what is going on in the minds of the character(s) during given situations. So much is happening in this book - so much of what Ellison wanted us to understand, to draws parallels with, to see more 'racially' clearly... and I simply found it tedious to wade through. The extensive introduction written by Callahan at the beginning of the book, and the very interesting "notes" section at the end were a positive addition to helping me to more clearly 'hear' what was happening in the minds of these two men during the end of Bliss's life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars To see is to be! Aug. 19 2000
Ralph Ellison is back on our desks. His posthumous novel, marvellously edited by John F. Callahan, is the continuation of the reality and vision of Invisible Man. It is a book on identity, the identity of the black man, beyond the long period of suffering under slavery, and then discrimination. It is a visionary book about the future rising of the black man over these circumstances and into the future. But it is also a very accurate portrait of the black man's self-inflicted alienation : I mean religion, I mean the rite of Juneteenth to celebrate the end of slavery as a myth of rebirth, in June, in continuation with ancient summer rites, and a total blending with the Christ's resurrection and the belief in a life after death. We feel in the main character, a preacher of that new era, his fear for and defensiveness toward the modern world, the cinema that he accuses of giving the viewers an illusion about reality, without seeing that what he calls the Truth, that is to say his belief in God's will could be seen as an illusion too, but also without seeing that men and women, children and adults are fascinated by new communication techniques, hence by the cinema. And we do know better than this character. Ellison shows very precisely how the black preacher is trapped in his own illusion, in his own fantasmagoric world of « true » intentions that are false because leading to an impasse. He is very critical all along of this preacher's refusing to tell the real truth to Bliss, his white adopted child that he is grooming into becoming his preaching assistant and a preacher himself, so « lying » to the child in the name of a superior Truth, God's Truth. Vanity on his side to pretend he knows God's intentions and motivations. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Disappointing
Although Ralph Ellison's prose is masterfully, I found the body of work within Juneteenth to be disjointed and nonlinear in scope. Read more
Published on April 14 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading, but not Great
Ellison again brings us his paradigms on race relations in America, but this time, through an editor. John F. Read more
Published on May 20 2001 by Michael G. Mcneill
1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable
Let the thirteen page Introduction be a warning to anyone who dares venture beyond. Anyone who reads more the Introduction does so at his or her own peril. Read more
Published on Feb. 27 2001 by Doug
1.0 out of 5 stars If you didn't like Invisible Man...
The idea of paternal reconciliation across race lines was what inspired me to choose this book for a summer read. Read more
Published on July 29 2000 by chikpea
3.0 out of 5 stars Glimpses but Difficult
This book gives you an interesting glimpse into what had the potential to be a truly masterful and brilliant novel. Read more
Published on June 27 2000 by David Lloyd
5.0 out of 5 stars best book I've EVER read
amazing. gives one a TON to think about...the language is unforgettable, and the story incredible. a masterpiece. Read more
Published on June 19 2000 by Paul Devlin
2.0 out of 5 stars Quite Disappointing!
A wonderful beginning gives way to a mish-mash of verbiage. This is not a book, but a splice job of a book that was far from finished. Read more
Published on May 18 2000 by Coco Pazzo
3.0 out of 5 stars try the Audio version
I found the book a little too much for my liking. But the audio version(Blair Underwood-reader)excellant. He has a wonderful voice and captures the spirit of the story.
Published on April 19 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars An Event!
Don't listen to the naysayers. If you love Ellison, you must read this. Albeit a diamond in the rough, it's all here: vivid characters in the round, profound feeling and... Read more
Published on March 13 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars Frame your mind to the Latin Mysticism genre
Even though I knew I was supposed to chain myself to a presupposed United States South, I found myself referenced all over Latin America, dropped into the chaos theory of... Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2000 by "pearldragon1"
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