Thursday, January 03, 2008

1. White Man's Justice, Black Man's Grief by Donald Goines

white man's justice, black man's grief pictureDonald Goines was a black author who wrote novels about black life in America in the 70s. While his books are clearly fiction, he experienced and saw most of what he wrote about. And those things are rough. I don't know how they were published at the time, but they are currently released by Holloway Press, an LA publishing house that specializes in black literature. You can often find them for pretty cheap in used bookstores. Goines is a great writer. His plots can be a bit obviously structured and his style employs techniques frowned upon by "literary" types (he often tells rather than shows), but shit happens in his books and he makes it seem real and immediate. And he pulls no punches. It borders on the sensationalistic, but never goes over because you believe it when you are reading it. I warn you though, there is some seriously harsh shit in his books.

Knowing this, I was particularly hesitant to pick up White Man's Justice, Black Man's Grief because it all takes place in prison. My fears were well-founded as there are some extremely disturbing scenes of male rape (shit that I hadn't even conceived of, which is bad). But the story is primarily concerned with the hero, who gets thrown in the county jail for possession of a concealed weapon, and two friends he makes, a white guy and a younger black guy. They join together because of a shared ethos of honour and together they handle the challenges of power and materials that go on in the county jail. The general theme of the book is that if you are black, you are screwed in the U.S. justice system. I doubt things have changed all that much since this was written in the early '70s.

A quick and enjoyable read, though if you're squeamish, I'd recommend picking up one of Goines books where the rape and violence takes place on the streets of the ghetto, rather than in the prison cell (though why this is less disturbing, I'm not really sure).

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