Sunday, January 14, 2018


9814533First published in 1923, Jean Toomer's Cane is an innovative literary work-part drama, part poetry, part fiction-powerfully evoking black life in the South. Rich in imagery, Toomer's impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic sketches of Southern rural and urban life are permeated by visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and fire; the northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. This iconic work of American literature is published with a new afterword by Rudolph Byrd of Emory University and Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University, who provide groundbreaking biographical information on Toomer, place his writing within the context of American modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, and examine his shifting claims about his own race and his pioneering critique of race as a scientific or biological concept.

*May Contain Spoilers*

Cane by Jean Toomer is a book unlike anything I've ever read before. This piece of literary modernism combines prose, poetry, song, and drama into a whole that is held together by theme. Though none of the characters in the novel are present all the way through, often only included in one chapter, Toomer presents them with reasons to like them, hate them, understand them, pity them, and even hope for them. In this way, the novel is almost like a set of introductions from which meaning can be taken only after meeting everyone present. 

The vignettes that Toomer offers are interesting, heartbreaking, and include themes of racial tensions, discrimination, magical realism, allusions to the bible, framed with beautiful imagery. After reading this book it's obvious why Toomer was called a writer before his time as his experimentation with style is incredibly unique and was probably a put off in the 1920s for most readers. Though this book does not have a unifying plot, the entire piece can be taken as a study of the way people treat people in the 1920s. I would highly recommend this book to those who enjoy reading something they've never read before, but are not afraid of controversial topics and historical viewpoints.

Rating: 3/5 Cups

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