The Fisher King: A Novelby Paule Marshall
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.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.77(w) x 8.84(h) x 0.81(d)
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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.
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.
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.