If He Hollers Let Him Go: A Novel (Himes, Chester)

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9781560254454: If He Hollers Let Him Go: A Novel (Himes, Chester)
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A powerful story of racism that's as pertinent today as when the book was first published
This story of a man living every day in fear of his life for simply being black is as powerful today as it was when it was first published in 1947. The novel takes place in the space of four days in the life of Bob Jones, a black man who is constantly plagued by the effects of racism. Living in a society that is drenched in race consciousness has no doubt taken a toll on the way Jones behaves, thinks, and feels, especially when, at the end of his story, he is accused of a brutal crime he did not commit. "One of the most important American writers of the twentieth century ... [a] quirky American genius..."-Walter Mosley, author of Bad Boy Brawly Brown, Devil in a Blue Dress "If He Hollers is an austere and concentrated study of black experience, set in southern California in the early forties."-Independent Publisher

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In the decades just prior to the eruption of the American civil rights movement in the late '50s, Chester Himes was one of the most significant African American authors--although today he is less well known than several of his contemporaries. He wrote numerous novels, short stories, essays, and a powerful, searing autobiography, and he did so with an economy of language, a graceful eloquence, and a painful yet unflinching directness.

If He Hollers Let Him Go places Himes in the pantheon of 20th-century novelists. It is an intense and muscular story, with an assembly of characters drawn from virtually every social and economic class present in Southern California in the '40s. The novel takes place over four days in the life of Bob Jones, the only black foreman in a shipyard during World War II. Jones lives in a society literally drenched in race consciousness--every conversation in a bar, every personal relationship, every instruction given on a job site, every casual glance on a sidewalk, every interaction of any kind, no matter how trivial, is imbued with a painful and dangerous meaning. A slight mistake, an unwitting rebellion, an unintentional expression of rage or desire can spell disaster for a black man--a beating over a game of craps, or an arrest, or termination from a job, or an accusation of rape. Jones awakes each day in fear, and lives steeped in fear:

It came along with consciousness. It came into my head first, somewhere back of my closed eyes, moved slowly underneath my skull to the base of my brain, cold and hollow. It seeped down my spine, into my arms, spread through my groin with an almost sexual torture, settled in my stomach like butterfly wings. For a moment I felt torn all loose inside, shriveled, paralyzed, as if after awhile I'd have to get up and die.
For Jones, there is no escape from the constant drumbeat of race and racism. It invades his dreams, his tiniest aspirations, and his deepest passions. Every attempt to retaliate or defend himself leads only to further trouble, loss, or humiliation. He can never forget who he is or what he is prevented from being. At the same time, he comes across as an actor, a subject, a doer, and not as a hapless, helpless victim. For all that he is confronted with, he never stops planning and acting and moving, and in the end, he survives, though his escape is incomplete and bittersweet.

The very idea that Jones can escape, however, marks a revolution in American literature. Thwarted at nearly every turn, he is nonetheless a powerful, intelligent, complicated agent of his own destiny. This 1945 novel is a compelling read, and Chester Himes deserves to be remembered for far more than Cotton Comes to Harlem and the raft of hard-bitten detective novels with which he made his living. --Andrew Himes

About the Author:

Chester Himes was the author of numerous novels, short stories, essays, and two films. Himes, who began writing while serving a prison term for jewel theft in the early 1940s, is best known for his angry social criticism in books like If He Hollers Let Him Go and Lonely Crusade and for his memorable Harlem detective novels.

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