Chango's Beads and Two-tone ShoesBook - 2011
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ironweed , a dramatic novel of love and revolution from one of America's finest writers.
When journalist Daniel Quinn meets Ernest Hemingway at the Floridita bar in Havana, Cuba, in 1957, he has no idea that his own affinity for simple, declarative sentences will change his life radically overnight.
So begins William Kennedy's latest novel-a tale of revolutionary intrigue, heroic journalism, crooked politicians, drug-running gangsters, Albany race riots, and the improbable rise of Fidel Castro. Quinn's epic journey carries him through the nightclubs and jungles of Cuba and into the newsrooms and racially charged streets of Albany on the day Robert Kennedy is fatally shot in 1968. The odyssey brings Quinn, and his exotic but unpredictable Cuban wife, Renata, a debutante revolutionary, face-to-face with the darkest facets of human nature and illuminates the power of love in the presence of death.
Kennedy masterfully gathers together an unlikely cast of vivid characters in a breathtaking adventure full of music, mysticism, and murder-a homeless black alcoholic, a radical Catholic priest, a senile parent, a terminally ill jazz legend, the imperious mayor of Albany, Bing Crosby, Hemingway, Castro, and a ragtag ensemble of radicals, prostitutes, provocateurs, and underworld heavies. This is an unforgettably riotous story of revolution, romance, and redemption, set against the landscape of the civil rights movement as it challenges the legendary and vengeful Albany political machine.
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Between *The Paris Wife*, other books about Hemingway's matrimonial adventures, and Woody Allen's film *Midnight in Paris*, there's recently been a minor outburst of cultural fascination with Hemingway-the-man. For readers who haven't yet slaked their thirst, I have another work for you to consider: William Kennedy's *Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes*. <br />
The novel's broken into three sections. A brief introductory scene focuses on Albany, New York in 1936, and features Bing Crosby along with several of the book's main cast. The brief scene manages to be simultaneously charming and disturbing; Kennedy captures the era's complicated racial politics and their effects on personal interactions with a quick song and some snappy dialogue. <br />
From there, the book quickly moves to Cuba in 1957. The young boy awoken by Bing Crosby's voice in the first section has become Daniel Quinn, a new journalist who lands smack in the middle of the Cuban revolution. After meeting Hemingway and beautiful, revolutionary Renata in a bar, Quinn's drawn deeply into a bewitching world of Santeria, gun running, Cuban jazz, and danger – he even interviews Castro.<br />
This heady atmosphere breaks briefly at a crisis point, when Kennedy abruptly shifts the action back to Albany in 1968. Quinn's returned after some unnamed tragedy in Cuba. Racial tensions are coming to a head in the city in the wake of Robert Kennedy's assassination. As tensions erupt in one night of violence, Quinn is once again drawn into the heat of the action.<br />
Themes of Santeria, jazz and revolution pull the reader through the novel at a relentless pace. Beyond the three sections mentioned above, Kennedy doesn't break the action into any chapters to give readers time to pause and digest. By the end of the novel it's clear - whatever Hemingway might have had to say about concise, uncomplicated writing, that sort of narrative no longer captures a world as complex as ours. *Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes* is recommended to those who love the idea of Hemingway more than his writing, as well as anyone with a passion for music history, revolution and atmospheric novels.
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