From British daily The Morning Star:
Writer ahead of his time
(Sunday 07 December 2008)
Banjo, by Claude McKay
(Serpents Tail, £7.99)
WHEN Banjo was first published in 1929, many critics judged it to be a fairly second-rate novel, but it’s still an enjoyable read.
It has also had an important influence on writers of the Negritude school.
Fittingly subtitled A Story Without A Plot, it follows the exploits of African-American musician Banjo and his group of vagabonds as they drink, womanise, fight and dance their way around the back streets of the bustling and intensely cosmopolitan Marseilles.
Worldwise Banjo dreams of forming an orchestra, but he never gets very far and, indeed, why should he bother when life appears to be so idyllic? It’s easy to see a lot of McKay in the characters that he describes.
A drifter for much of his life, McKay died in poverty at the early age of 59, but not before he had spent the previous decades doing a variety of jobs and wandering the world in search of people, places and ideas.
Very often politically to the left Banjois packed with discussions about race, identity, nation and class.
McKay’s concern to place working-class black people at the centre of his narrative is obvious from the start and, although you might question his depiction of black culture as innately playful and sensuous, it’s an interesting and a vibrant piece of writing which has withstood the test of time.
African American novelist Chester Himes: here.