Friday, July 25, 2014

The Big Sea by Langston Hughes

An autobiography which starts at Sandy Hook, newly notorious for the shooting to death of 20 primary school students by a teenaged nutter in 2013.  The book is about a young man trying to find a place in racist America of the post WW1 era. After being unable to find work in NY, he is thrilled to get a job on a ship going to Africa but is disgusted by the racist exploitation of the Africans and dismayed to not be accepted by the native Africans as 'one of them' and is not allowed to see a African Ju-Ju ceremony.
It is amusing that he starts writing poetry as that was the post he was given in his High School paper on the assumption that Black people were naturally versed in rhythm and verse! (it certainly is in his case - his poem The Breath of a Rose:

Love is like dew                       Love is like star-light                    Love is like perfume                      
On lilacs at dawn:                  In the sky at morn:                   In the heart of a rose:                
Comes the swift sun               Star-light that dies                        The flower withers,
And dew is gone.                     when day is born                      and the perfume goes-

Love is no more
Than the breath of a rose  ----- is very rhythmical - he says set to song- interestingly I couldn't find the lyrics online but instead a Swedish proverb: Love is like dew that falls on both nettles and lilies - mmm wonder if he knew that?) He seems to be a light-skinned Black person who is well placed to give an outsider's perspective.
Part 2 deals with his sojourn in Paris, it was interesting to read from a Black perspective and I was glad he wrote it and was able to compare with Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast -

He visited parts of France, Italy and Spain on a shoestring and found people who both aided and hindered him - just like in real life I suppose.

Part 3 deals with his return and subsequent struggle to survive in NY. He mentioned the fame of Harlem in the 1920s which crashed in 1929 with the beginning of The Great Depression. As always, the lack of money and the dependence on the those who had-- the whites -- influenced the way the Blacks had to live. There is thinly veiled resentment at the middle-classed Blacks for not supporting Black artists and his efforts to start a quarterly newspaper - Fire -went up in flames - literally: the writers/starters being unable to pay their contributions to keep it going and the loan to print the first edition not relieved by sales -- sounds a bit like the other book I am reading - the UN: starting with good intentions, hampered by lack of funds and goals not fulfilled.

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