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Two Cities

Overview

This redemptive, healing love story brings to "masterful" Philadelphia Inquirer culmination the themes Wideman has developed in fourteen previous acclaimed books. "A harmonic blending of high and low, of the music of the streets and the music of the spheres" New York Times, Two Cities celebrates the survival of an endangered black urban community and the ways people redeem themselves in a society that is failing them.
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Overview

This redemptive, healing love story brings to "masterful" Philadelphia Inquirer culmination the themes Wideman has developed in fourteen previous acclaimed books. "A harmonic blending of high and low, of the music of the streets and the music of the spheres" New York Times, Two Cities celebrates the survival of an endangered black urban community and the ways people redeem themselves in a society that is failing them.
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Editorial Reviews

Bernard W. Bell
Two Cities is a compelling culmination of the theme of contemporary balack urban male double consciousness develped in Wideman's thirteen previous critically acclaimed books. It interweaves a legendary political tragedy of Philadelphia with a blues love story of Pittsburgh. It is a novel that thematically and stylistically explores the boundaries and bridges that paradoxically separate and connect fact and fiction, past and present, places and poeple, black and white, men and women, young and old. It is an experimental novel that linguistically celebrates the resourcefulness and resiliency of the African American blues voice.
American Book Review
New Republic
Wideman is now our leading black male writer...and one of our finest writers, period.
Dean Bakopoulos
...Wideman writes with anger and fire....[T]he novel is a pensive exploration of love and hope amid chaos and fear....[D]oes not offer any concrete solutions to the urban violence of this nation. Rather...he shows us a seemingly hopeless problem and demands that a solutionsomehowbe found. —The Progressive
Walter Mosley
...[G]oes beyond the conventions of a simple love story....one after another...passages open uschange usand then move on....Two Cities...[captures] images of...everyday surroundings to reveal the crimes and passions of our world. — The New York Times Book Review
William Banks Jr.
...A masterpiece of verve and feeling...real, satisfying, and unforgettable...the best thing about the novel, though, is its contribution to the literature of love between two people.
The Boston Globe
Clarence Major
[Wideman is] unquestionably one of our finest novelists because he remains focused on great American themes -- the most central one being "the human heart in conflict with itself." -- The Washington Post
Library Journal
A young woman who has lost her husband and her sons to street violence finally allows herself to love again, then ends up probing the death of an eccentric whose photographs document a half-century of African American history.
Library Journal
A young woman who has lost her husband and her sons to street violence finally allows herself to love again, then ends up probing the death of an eccentric whose photographs document a half-century of African American history.
Richard Bernstein
...[M]r. Wideman's writerly craft or his remarkable ear for black American cadences and jive...is a great pleasure. What is troubling is its use of a kind of distorted history to substantiate a veritably cultish, mythic vision....it is a novel that uses history to present his main characters' striving to carve out a circle of sanity in a landscape of almost total moral and spiritual debasement....They also represent the deeply demoralized of American life that is at this novel's heart. --The New York Times
Time
Reading Two Cities can be demanding: abrupt, unannounced shifts from one point of view to another, foreshadowings and flashbacks, no quotation marks to signal dialogues in progress.
William Banks, Jr.
...[A] masterpiece of verve and feeling...real, satisfying, and unforgettable...the best thing about the novel, though, is its contribution to the literature of love between two people. — The Boston Globe
David L. Ulin
Over the past three decades, John Edgar Wideman has engaged in a literary enterprise of epic dimensions -- an attempt to re-imagine the black experience in the United States. Choosing settings from as far back as Philadelphia's 1793 yellow fever epidemic to the present day, he seeks to merge the divergent strains of contemporary culture and collective memory, as if only in their intersection can we hope to understand ourselves. In Wideman's hands, narrative becomes something akin to mythology; his stories unveil layers of meaning obscured by ordinary life. It's a process not unlike that undertaken by Martin Mallory, a character in Wideman's new novel, Two Cities Mallory snaps "photos that invite a viewer to stroll around them ... I want people to see my pictures from various angles, see the image I offer as many images, one among countless ways of seeing, so the more they look, the more there is to see."

At first glance, Two Cities seems like quintessential Wideman, touching on issues and situations he's written about in the past. The cities of the title are Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where virtually all his work is set, and among the book's signal events is the 1985 MOVE bombing in West Philadelphia, the subject of his novel Philadelphia Fire. Unlike Wideman's finest writing, though, Two Cities lacks an incendiary spirit; it meanders through the lives of three protagonists without making any connections that stick. There's Kassima, a widow and the mother of two dead teenage boys, who, as the emotional center of the novel, remains curiously unformed, a spectator even to herself. There's Robert Jones, the man who loves her, an uninvolving, transparent anyman with little history of his own. The one exception is Mallory, who provides some necessary context with his memories and his art. Yet he too seems less like flesh-and-blood than like an expression of Wideman's ideas about storytelling.

Two Cities is plotless and largely lifeless. Even Wideman's prose -- which, at its best, combines literary language and the vernacular in an electric mix -- is stilted, a forced reflection of his earlier work. In the long conversations that propel what story there is, the characters often sound like they're mouthing platitudes rather than addressing what they feel. That's most true of Kassima, whose meditations on love and loss present her as a paragon of black womanhood, at the expense of anything resembling an inner life. "Trouble is," she tells Robert, "love's what being a woman's all about ... We can't help it. No more than you can help all that busyass silly business of being a man."

The biggest problem with Two Cities is that it feels like a book Wideman's written better before. This isn't the first time he's recycled material. In his last novel, The Cattle Killing, Wideman reused the yellow fever epidemic of his story Fever, although in that case, he mostly pulled it off. Reading Two Cities, however, is like looking at a photograph of a photograph, an imitation of an imitation of life.--Salon

Walter Mosley
...[G]oes beyond the conventions of a simple love story....one after another...passages open us, change us, and then move on....Two Cities...[captures] images of...everyday surroundings to reveal the crimes and passions of our world. — The New York Times Book Review
Dean Bakopoulos
...Wideman writes with anger and fire....[T]he novel is a pensive exploration of love and hope amid chaos and fear....[D]oes not offer any concrete solutions to the urban violence of this nation. Rather...he shows us a seemingly hopeless problem and demands that a solution, somehow, be found.
The Progressive
Kirkus Reviews
A somber, eloquent meditation on isolation and violence. Wideman (The Cattle Killing) sets this tightly focused novel largely in Homewood, the black neighborhood in Pittsburgh that he's depicted, and memorialized, many times before. The second city referred to in the title is Philadelphia, seen in flashback, in scenes illuminated by the light of the neighborhood inadvertently burned down by the police during their confrontation with the black separatist group MOVE. The three narrators here have all been profoundly scarred by violence: Kassima, still a young woman, has lost her husband to AIDS, and her two adolescent sons to gang-related violence (an ongoing war between the 'Red' and 'Blue'); Robert Jones, the 50-year-old man whom Kassima takes home in an attempt to dissolve her intense isolation, has had most of his hopes undone by racism; and Mr. Mallory, Kassima's aged tenant, has been driven to the point of desperation by the violence he has witnessed, beginning when he and some fellow black soldiers were ambushed by white soldiers while serving in Italy in WWII. Mallory, who had lived in Philadelphia, recalls repeatedly his friendship with John Africa, the doomed founder of MOVE. While Kassima and Robert begin a wary courtship, described in first-person narratives of great, idiosyncratic vigor (few novelists capture the tang and rhythm and aggressive force of the spoken word as well as Wideman), Mr. Mallory spends his time wandering Homewood's streets, hoping to catch the reality of its sufferings with his camera, or writing letters to the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, whom he reveres. The letters allow Wideman to speculate on the ways in which art can explore (and perhapspartly remedy) alienation and despair. The climax occurs at Mr. Mallory's funeral, interrupted by the 'Blues,' which spurs an aroused Kassima to confront the violence that has destroyed her family and to make public her tenant's disturbing photos. An angry, moving work from one of the most original, and accomplished, of modern American novelists.
From the Publisher
"A masterpiece of verve and feeling. Wideman's writing, like Toni Morrison’s, is so pure and convincing that he can break the rules of classical storytelling, even invent some new ones." Boston Globe

"This novel is about two wounded souls who fall in love under the pressure of urban warfare in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. 'Through Wideman's masterly narrative the reader learns how to accept hopelessness without giving up hope,' Walter Mosley wrote here last year. ' Two Cities is as enjoyable as it is important.'"—Scott Veale The New York Times

"Wideman is now our leading black male writer...and one of our finest writers, period." New Republic

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641843006
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/1/1998
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN is the author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, including the award-winning Brothers and Keepers , Philadelphia Fire , and most recently the story collection God's Gym . He is the recipient of two PEN/ Faulkner Awards and has been nominated for the National Book Award. He teaches at Brown University.

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