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The Fisher King: A Novel

The Fisher King: A Novel

4.7 3
by Paule Marshall

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In 1949, Sonny-Rett Payne, a black jazz pianist, fled New York for Paris to escape both his family's disapproval of his art and the racism that shadowed his career. His spectacular success in Europe and his subsequent death there form the dramatic background of Paule Marshall's gorgeous fifth novel, a moving and revelatory story of jazz, love, family conflict, and


In 1949, Sonny-Rett Payne, a black jazz pianist, fled New York for Paris to escape both his family's disapproval of his art and the racism that shadowed his career. His spectacular success in Europe and his subsequent death there form the dramatic background of Paule Marshall's gorgeous fifth novel, a moving and revelatory story of jazz, love, family conflict, and the artist's struggles in society.

Decades after Sonny-Rett left, his eight-year-old Parisian grandson is brought to his old Brooklyn neighborhood to attend a memorial concert in Payne's honor. The child's visit reveals the persistent rivalries within the family and the community that drove his grandfather into exile. Will the young boy be a harbinger of change and reconciliation or a pawn in the power struggle of those who now wish to claim him in Sonny-Rett's name?

Marshall, who grew up in Brooklyn and set her first novel there -- the classic Brown Girl, Brownstones -- deftly makes the neighborhood itself a protagonist. With characters of astonishing depth and complexity, she chronicles the myths, betrayals, and angers that can alienate people for decades. Yet The Fisher King offers hope in the healing and redemptive power of one memorable boy.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Forty years after Brown Girls, Brownstones, Marshall's triumphant new novel reminds us why she is one of our premier African-American voices. Readers slowly decipher a two-family drama through the eyes of an engaging eight-year-old boy. In 1940s Brooklyn, well-to-do Florence McCullum takes fierce pride in her elegant home and daughter Cherisse, who has a promising future as a singer and performer. Her best friend and neighbor, Ulene Payne, a widowed West Indian domestic, is as proud of her two sons, Edgar and Everett (Sonny-Rett). She makes great sacrifices to provide Sonny-Rett with piano lessons, but he eventually rejects classical music in favor of jazz. As Sonny-Rett's fame and reputation grow, Cherisse loses focus on her budding career, and with her friend Hattie Carmichael, follows Sonny-Rett to his gigs; soon Hattie handles his business matters and Cherisse becomes his wife. Unwilling to endure their parents' disappointment and American racism, the trio moves to Europe, cutting almost all ties; each family blames the other, and a bitter feud is born. Four decades later, when the novel begins, Edgar, a successful developer, decides to inaugurate the new neighborhood music hall with a memorial concert in his dead brother's honor. He locates Sonny-Rett's grandson and namesake, now living with Hattie in Paris, and flies the two to the U.S. for the occasion. Ulene and Florence quickly become enamored of the bilingual youngster. His innocent presence, coupled with memories stirred by preparations for the concert, lead the surviving family members to reevaluate their relationships, resolve old arguments and keep the feud from poisoning another generation. Marshall writes with verve, clarity and humor, capturing the cadences of black speech while deftly portraying the complexity of family relationships and the social issues that beset black Americans. A surprise twist at the end brings Marshall's finely tuned drama to a satisfying, redemptive close. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal - Library Journal
Marshall, in her first novel in nine years (following Daughters), paints a compassionate and satisfying portrait of a family trying to redeem itself after years of hurt and recrimination. Sonny Payne is a bright eight year old from a poor Parisian neighborhood brought to Brooklyn to visit relatives he didn't know he had--a family torn apart when his grandfather, a jazz pianist, married his grandmother and moved to France. As Sonny learns about his family's history, he learns to care for its members, as they learn to heal old wounds and reveal long-held secrets. Marshall refuses to let Sonny, a normal boy who draws, plays, and yearns for a dog, become an icon, and she shows all of her characters the same affection and understanding she would give members of her own family. Marshall's renowned sense of place and ear for dialog make this novel a delight to read. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/00.]--Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion County P.L., IN Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

Product Details

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5.77(w) x 8.84(h) x 0.81(d)

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The Fisher King 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
writer-readerMT More than 1 year ago
Paule Marshall is one of the finest American writers and this novel shows her tremendous skill. Unlike her earlier novels, like Brown Girl Brownstone (one of my favorites), the style and structure of The Fisher King is more spare, almost like a novella. Yet it doesn't lack any of the profundity and passion of her longer works. She manages to tell a story encompassing three generations of African-Americans & African-West Indies in this finely-wrought gem of a novel, and to shed light too on a generation of African-Americans who went into self-exile in Europe. This is a highly-engaging work, full of memorable, rich characters and with an intriguing family mystery at its centre that holds the reader's attention throughout. This is definitely on my short-list of favorite, re-readable novels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading The Fisher King by Paule Marshall was like listening to the '56 Billie Holliday Concert at Carnegie Hall - complete with historical commentary between the music. It had the same pace and love of the music. Although this is a book about family, Ms. Marshall is at her best when she writes about the music: Jazz. I particularly loved this passage- 'Everett Payne took his time paying his respects to the tune as written, and once that was done, he hunched closer to the piano, angled his head sharply to the left, completely closed the curtain of his gaze, and with his hands commanding the length and breadth of the keyboard he unleashed a dazzling pyrotechnic of chords (you could almost see their colors), polyrhythms, seemingly unrelated harmonies, and ideas - fresh, brash, outrageous ideas. ¿He continued to acknowledge the little simpleminded tune, while at the same time furiously recasting and reinventing it in an image all his own.' Although, many will find the ending somewhat unsatisfying, I found it valid. Her portraits of the five major characters, in even so slight a book, were complete and real. The two great-grandmothers were magnificent, the great Uncle serviceable, Hattie a complex and imposing presence, and the little boy Sonny - well, Sonny added his own perspective to each of them, and in so doing told us his own poignant story. Recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I usually find Paule Marshall's work emotionally touching, perhaps because her work stems from a cultural background that we share. The Fisher King is a page turner, but as the reader follows one or two plotlines consciously, the unspoken lines of discourse become far more compelling. I am shocked.