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Philadelphia Fire [Hardcover]

John Edgar Wideman
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 1990
Eleven people - five of them children - are killed in west Philadelphia when 6221 Osage Avenue is bombed out of existence. One small boy is seen to escape the fire. From his life of self-exile on an island in the Aegean, Cudjoe mourns the child until it becomes an obsession, leading him home, forcing him to face up to his own profound alienation and to the wrenching realities of his native land. He searches for the boy and, as he does so, he searches out his own past. Reconstructing his life plunges him backwards into memories both personal and communal, forwards inch by inch into a city fast becoming a nightmare. 'Wideman's novel succeeds through raw emotion and a linguistic versatility...Written in a sinewy language which also combines reportage, "Philadelphia Fire" operates as parable and social document' - "Irish Times". '"Philadelphia Fire" is a welter of fine writing, sociological observation, polemical address and messianic prophecy...A literary novel in the grand contemporary, postmodern, literary style' - "New Statesman & Society". 'Unquestionably the foremost chronicler of the urban African-American experience. A master storyteller, Wideman is both a witness and a prophet' - Caryl Phillips.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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From Amazon

When African-American writer Cudjoe returns to his hometown of Philadelphia to write a book about the 1985 police firebombing of a black cult, his homecoming spurs within him a myriad of memories and impressions. While recalling the abandonment of his white wife and two children, his failed novel and a dead mentor, he provides rich observation about the about the crumbling state of a once-beloved city. As his research unfolds, he examines issues of sex, race and the life of the city, ultimately uncovering information that sets the entire city into motion. Philadelphia Fire won the PEN/Faulkner Award for 1991. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Wideman's extraordinary new novel is really two books, each an exhilarating, dependent rival of the other. The early passages present expatriate black writer Cudjoe, who returns to his native Philadelphia hoping to write a book about the 1985 police firebombing of the headquarters of a black cult. Cudjoe's homecoming spurs a confluence of vivid memories and impressions within the character's meticulously delineated consciousness. He recalls the abandonment of his white wife and two children; his failed novel; a dead mentor. Through his sensibility we also receive a rich evocation of the urban environment and of the city's new status as a deteriorating, black-governed metropolis. In incantatory, lyrical, naturalistic and inventive prose, Wideman writes of sex and race and life in the city, with all the beauty, profane humor and literary complexity of Joyce writing about Dublin. The final section of the work--with its quickly shifting voices, personas, historical and metaphorical inferences--has as its core a redemptive black vernacular interpretation of Shakespeare's The Tempest , in which the horrific firebombing of the title is raised to the symbolic level of Prospero's storm. Wideman's fiery tempest sets his characters--black and white, male and female, adult and child--into motion, hurtling toward one another with the possibility of self-knowledge and salvation. 75,000 first printing; major ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars May 13, 1985 July 17 2001
Wideman's book, Philadelphia Fire, starts with an absorbing idea - Cudjoe, an African-American expatriate, recently returned from Mykonos, returns to Philadelphia to write a novel about the bombing and fire at the Move complex in West Philadelphia and find the one child who survived.
Yet for me, the book did not fulfill its promise. The stream of consciousness writing was complex, and distracted me greatly from the story. I was also disappointed that the bombing incident itself, its political underpinnings, and the story of the elusive child were never truly told.
Rather, the book focuses on Cudjoe's experiences upon returning to Philadelphia; his failures and successes as a father, teacher, writer, and husband; and his investigations into the incident. Cudjoe's realizations redeem the book, as his insight into the life of an African-American man are profound. While I was disappointed that the subject in which I was interested was never covered in depth, the descriptions and feelings evoked by the title character made the book certainly worth reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars About the last 30 pages earn this book five stars March 13 2000
By Pye
I had to read Philadelphia Fire for a writing class and, after delving into the book, I found that it was written in that love it or hate it "stream of conciousness" style. The person of the narrator switches from character to character and other people in the story seem to appear without any warning or introduction. But the reason I gave this book five stars is because of the way the last and the way Wideman describes the homeless man sucking the ketchup and maynoise off of Mcdonalds plastic hamburger wrappers is painfully insightful and provocative. This book is worth the read simply because the ending is fabulous and leaves you with a sense of how the world doesn't care about innocent people being killed and that most people are only concerned with themselves. END
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3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult, but worth it. Oct. 14 1999
By A Customer
I read 'Philadelphia Fire' as a part of my MA course at The University of Sheffield, England, and, on the whole, enjoyed it. I did, however, find its stream of conciousness style confusing and difficult to read at times. It is rather 'heavy' and slow in certain points, and tends to jump from character to character (and to author/ narator) especially in the second and third parts of the novel. Its description and use of the City is excellent, and I am sure that many can relate to certain experiences encountered by Cudjoe, from reliving youth to revisiting ones old stomping ground etc.
On the whole, I found its style difficult, but do not let this discourage you, as the experience of reading this novel outweighs the sluggishness of certain points.
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