Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How America's First Booker Winner Gets under the Skin of Race

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How America's First Booker Winner Gets under the Skin of Race

Article excerpt

Byline: David Sexton

I HAVE a dream. One year the chair of the Man Booker judges will stand up and say, with the greatest of regret, we have decided that none of this year's entries have reached the required standard. So this year the prize will not be awarded.

It isn't going to happen, I know. For one thing, the Man Booker Prize is essentially a harvest festival, which will go ahead in the prescribed form every year even if the harvest has been terrible. For another, there is no standard. On this year's shortlist, three of the books were so flawed they needed mending before publication, let alone commendation. That left Graeme Macrae Burnet's plunge into 19th-century crofter hell, His Bloody Project, and David Szalay's exceptionally bleak look at the disconnectedness of contemporary masculinity in All That Man Is.

And then there is this year's winner, the first by an American since the rules changed three years ago, The Sellout by 54-year-old Paul Beatty. It is a remarkable and challenging piece of writing about race, one gigantic riff, an act of literary stand-up. As it opens, its black hero, "Me", the "Sellout", is facing charges before the American Supreme Court of owning a slave and propagating segregation, "conspiracy to upset the apple cart just when things were going so well".

He tells us, in profane language, full of the n-word, how he was brought up in a bizarrely rustic ghetto of Los Angeles called "Dickens" His cranky social scientist father subjected him to crazy experiments in colour consciousness, before being shot dead by the police. "Me" then decides the way forward for Dickens is backwards, as "a communitycum-leper colony". He takes on a former black child comedy actor Hominy as the slave he wants to be "Massa... I'm a slave, That's who I am... I'm your nigger for life, and that's it" even whipping him as he desires. …

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