Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes

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Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year

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 ...

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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 F. 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. 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, New York political machine. From the author of the acclaimed Albany cycle of novels. 328p. Read more Show Less

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New York, NY 2011 Hard cover First edition. First printing with 1 in number line New in new dust jacket. New, fine.. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 336 p. Audience: ... General/trade. Read more Show Less

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Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes: A Novel

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Overview

Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year

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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer Prize–winner Kennedy continues to chronicle his native Albany, N.Y., after a detour through Cuba, in his bracing new novel (after Roscoe). American journalist Daniel Quinn is in 1950s Havana reporting the revolution. In the Floridita bar, Ernest Hemingway introduces him to 23-year-old Cuban socialite Renata Otero, and Quinn is bewitched at first sight. An assassination attempt on Batista led by a group of revolutionaries that includes Renata’s lover lands her in hot water, but Quinn’s connections—both political and revolutionary—open doors for Renata that set her free and lead Quinn to Fidel’s secret Sierra Maestra camp. These heady days of revolution inform the novel’s second turbulent period—1968—and find Quinn back in Albany covering the machinations of the Democratic steamroller that is slowly crushing the capital’s largely black urban poor. Robert Kennedy has just been shot, and in the course of that day Quinn receives unexpected visitors from his past and documents the racial tension boiling over in Albany. Kennedy’s journalistic training is manifest in a clear, sure voice that swiftly guides the reader through a rich, multilayered, refreshingly old-school narrative. Thick with backroom deal making and sharp commentary on corruption, Kennedy’s novel describes a world he clearly knows, and through plenty of action, careful historical detail, and larger-than-life characters, he brilliantly brings it to life. (Oct. 3)
-John Sayles

"His most musical work of fiction: a polyrhythmic contemplation of time and its effects on passion set in three different eras . . . this is not a book a young man would or could write. There is the sense here of somebody who has seen and considered much, without letting his inner fire cool . . . the ambition and the ability to pull wildly diverse worlds together in a single story is rare. Kennedy, master of the Irish-American lament in works like Billy Phelan's Greatest Game and Ironweed, proves here he can play with both hands and improvise on a theme without losing the beat."
-Sam Sacks

"Written with such brio and encompassing humanity that it may well deserve to be called the best of the bunch . . . In Mr. Kennedy's Albany, as in William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, the past is never past. Changó's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is invigorated by this same blending of new and old, of progress and recurrence . . . there's more shot and incidence in Changó than in any novel of Mr. Kennedy's since Legs . . . the style here has the sleekness and strength of good crime noir."
-Jonathan Yardley

"Vivid and charming . . . Kennedy, now in his 80s, is in the embrace of nostalgia as he looks back on the adventures of his youth, and this gives the novel much of its not inconsiderable appeal . . . He is a fluid, engaging prose stylist, and frequently a witty one . . . Kennedy has maintained a high level of achievement throughout [his Albany Cycle], deftly blending comedy and drama as, over the years, he has painted a portrait of a single city perhaps unique in American fiction."
-Kate Tuttle

"Kennedy's humor is sly and wonderful . . . there's an almost deliriously rich cast of lowlifes here: gun runners, politicians on the make, street- corner agitators, prostitutes, winos . . . Kennedy's] description of Hemingway . . . is well-nigh perfect."
John Sayles
…[Kennedy's] most musical work of fiction: a polyrhythmic contemplation of time and its effects on passion set in three different eras, a jazz piece unafraid to luxuriate in its roots as blues or popular ballad or to spin out into less melodic territory…Other writers have worked aspects of this territory before with success…but the ambition and ability to pull wildly diverse worlds together in a single story is rare. Kennedy…proves here that he can play with both hands and improvise on a theme without losing the beat.
—The New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize winner Kennedy's (Roscoe) latest is an amalgam of politics, mysticism, gangsters, romance, jazz, and Hemingway. Set against the backdrop of Castro's overthrow of Batista and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the plot unfurls through the eyes of Daniel Quinn, a young reporter visiting Havana in 1957 in search of a story. In the Floridita bar, Quinn meets Hemingway; Renata Suárez Otero, a beautiful, young revolutionary; and Havana Post publisher Max Osborne, who hires him. Events quickly escalate, and Quinn is soon helping Renata run guns to the rebels and interviewing Castro. Fast-forward to Albany, NY, on the day of Bobby Kennedy's 1968 assassination; the streets seethe with anger and the city is a racial powder keg. Riots are erupting, and Quinn is in the thick of it with a radical priest, a Black Panther-esque group, a wino hired to shoot the mayor, and his senile father in tow. VERDICT The book is a masterly blend of a serious examination of the people's inherent right to fight oppression (and the dangers involved) and a political romp. Kennedy again proves that he is among our finest writers and that the American literary novel thrives. Bravo! [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/11.]—Mike Rogers, Library Journal
Library Journal
Here's an unbeatable setup. Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur Fellow Kennedy, who gave us the great "Albany Cycle," puts journalist Daniel Quinn (not of his Quinn's Book) in the Floridita bar in 1957 Havana, where he meets Ernest Hemingway. It's the start of something good: a novel that runs from Cuba to race riots in Albany as Robert Kennedy's assassination looms. Kennedy's first in a decade should be pretty amazing; with a six-city tour.
Kirkus Reviews
Kennedy (Roscoe, 2002, etc.), whose 1983 Albany-centered novelIronwoodwon the Pulitzer Prize, returns to his upstate New York home turf with a side trip to Cuba in this decades-jumping novel about a journalist's less-than-objective brushes with history.

In 1936 Albany, 8-year-old Daniel Quinn hears Bing Crosby and a black man named Cody singing a duet with a borrowed piano in the house of a man named Alex, an experience that becomes a dream-like memory of musical and racial harmony. In 1957, Quinn is a fledgling journalist in Havana—Kennedy covered Cuba as a journalist himself—where Hemingway makes Quinn his second in a duel with an American tourist, the novel's version of comic relief. Through Hemingway, Quinn is hired by Max, the editor ofThe Havana Post, who happened to be present at the Bing-Cody duet.And Quinn falls in love with Renata, Max's ex-sister-in-law, a striking beauty involved with the anti-Batista movement. They quickly marry in part because the wedding gives them a legitimate excuse to travel into the mountains where Quinn hopes to find Fidel Castro. Quinn sets off for his interview, in which Fidel comes off as a philosophical tactician, but when he returns Renata has disappeared, probably taken by Batista goons. Cut to 1968, the day after Robert Kennedy is shot. Quinn is back in Albany, working as a reporter. Renata is back with him, but the marriage is floundering. With them live Daniel's father George, who is suffering from dementia, and Renata's niece (Max's daughter) Gloria, who has recently suffered a nervous breakdown. In love with Cody's son Roy, Gloria is also involved with her godfather Alex, now the corrupt mayor of Albany, where racial tensions are peaking.

Full of larger-than-life characters, strong men and stronger women who marry personal passions to national events, Kennedy's novel has the mark of genius, yet a surfeit of names and plot threads discourage readers from fully engaging.

Jonathan Yardley
Changó's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes, like all its predecessors, is vivid and charming, but it also borders on the chaotic…Still, this is William Kennedy at work, and in the end the balance tilts in his favor. He is a fluid, engaging prose stylist, and frequently a witty one. Changó's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is a relatively minor episode in the Albany Cycle, but in its best moments it clearly belongs there.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670022977
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/29/2011
  • Series: Albany Cycle , #8
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

William Kennedy

William Kennedy, author, screenwriter and playwright, was born and raised in Albany, New York. Kennedy brought his native city to literary life in many of his works. The Albany cycle, includes Legs, Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, and the Pulitzer Prize winning Ironweed. The versatile Kennedy wrote the screenplay for Ironweed, the play Grand View, and cowrote the screenplay for the The Cotton Club with Francis Ford Coppola. Kennedy also wrote the nonfiction O Albany! and Riding the Yellow Trolley Car. Some of the other works he is known for include Roscoe and Very Old Bones.

Kennedy is a professor in the English department at the State University of New York at Albany. He is the founding director of the New York State Writers Institute and, in 1993, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has received numerous literary awards, including the Literary Lions Award from the New York Public Library, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Governor’s Arts Award. Kennedy was also named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France and a member of the board of directors of the New York State Council for the Humanities.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 4, 2012

    A meandering novel without much interest. Kennedy is at his bes

    A meandering novel without much interest. Kennedy is at his best when describing the revolution in Havana and the 1930's in Albany, but for much of the novel the characters have little to recommend their stories. The text of love and women is at tiems embarassing. RAther than focus on a story or a theme, Kennedy travels back and forth from the delightful (the interview with Fidel) to the absurd (a meandering evening in Albany between two elderly people reminiscing about their uninteresting youth).

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2012

    A Puzzle

    I almost stopped reading after the 1957 section because the dialogue was stilted and the action hard to follow. That would have been a mistake. The Albany section (except for the flashbacks to Havana 1957) mostly shows off Kennedy at what he does best: nostalgia, intrigue, and the occasional unexpected bon mot ("When you're lucky, you can strike oil in the attic"). The narrative remains jumpy, and some of the characters are more archetypical than realistic. But by the end, I didn't care. And I didn't really want the book to end, because I think that Kennedy (like Cody and Max and George) is saying goodbye. -- catwak

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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