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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

  

Why Must a Black Writer
Write About Sex ?


by
Dany Laferrière


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ?



Title: Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ?
Author: Dany Laferrière
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (Eng. 1994)
Length: 198 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ? - US
Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ? - UK
Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ? - Canada
Cette grenade dans la main du jeune nègre [...] - Canada
Cette grenade dans la main du jeune nègre [...] - France
Come diventare famosi senza far fatica - Italia
  • French title: Cette grenade dans la main du jeune nègre est-elle une arme ou un fruit ?
  • Translated by David Homel

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Our Assessment:

B+ : breezy, entertaining, sharp

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Lire . 9/2002 Vanessa Postec
The LA Times . 23/7/1995 Lynell George
Publishers Weekly . 31/10/1994 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "Un livre foisonnant, drôle et romanesque dans lequel l'auteur s'attache à détruire page après page -- avec un plaisir évident -- le rêve américain." - Vanessa Postec, Lire

  • "Laferriere revels in rearranging the rules, punctuating the deed not simply with a smile--but a seismic laugh he claims is courtesy of the ancestors. Which is why Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ? feels so intoxicatingly naughty. Throughout Laferriere's voice remains singular, arch and edged in cynicism. It is a resonant bellow--a voice sprung free from a figure sprawling on a too-small couch in the shadows, letting fly riddles, axioms, aphorisms, which land where they may. (...) Laferriere introduces race into these renderings with inherent elegance, and raising that specter intermittently imbues this road trip with a weighty, consequential dimension." - Lynell George, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Is it essay, fiction, rift, social commentary or self mockery ? No matter. Piercingly intelligent, Laferriere deconstructs the United States while spoofing himself and the reader." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ? opens with the claim:

     This is not a novel. As I write these words, I think of René Magritte's painting a pipe and adding the caption, "This is not a pipe."
       It's unlikely that anyone would have mistaken Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ? for a novel were it not for that opening claim (and the mention of the Magritte painting), but it can readily be read as such. There's not much plot, but the premise allows for a story of sorts: the first-person narrator -- the author of a notorious first novel, whose title alone (How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired)) laid his claim to (still-ongoing) fame -- has ostensibly been commissioned by an American magazine to write about the United States. Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ? is a mix of field notes as well as stray impressions and thoughts, a hodgepodge of (very selectively) navigating American culture and society while also dealing with having become a person who is recognized and who people have opinions about, a role the writer clearly isn't entirely comfortable with. Genre classification really doesn't matter here: certainly there's an element of fiction to it, and it's not straightforward personal journalism or essays; whatever one wants to call or consider it, Laferrière riffs on self, America, race, and writing in an agreeable way, making for a lively if scattershot picture of the United States around 1990.
       The book is divided into several sections, each with short chapters that address a wide variety of subjects. The author's attempt to write his article is one of the unifying threads of the book, but the many tangents -- some of which are more relevant to the piece-on-America than others -- are just as significant.
       Among the most amusing chapters is 'How to Be Famous without Getting Tired', in which Laferrière writes about how he came to fame ("all I needed were ten little words") -- and gives some nineteen examples of different reactions to the infamous and memorable title of his first book, "a case study in themselves". His struggles with his new-found prominent identity -- and how closely it is tied to the ten words of that title -- is something that also figures prominently throughout the book. He can't escape the book or the associations, and it certainly colors his experiences -- as well as many of his interactions, including repeated ones with a woman who demands he write her up.
       Race obviously figures prominently as well, as he finds that inescapable too, noting with obvious frustration:
     First of all, must a black writer have a color ? That's the kind of question I have to face, wherever I go.
       Obviously, rather than shrink away from the issue and pretend that he doesn't have a color, Laferrière repeatedly confronts it head on (notably even in the titles of both this and his first book). Many of the people he speaks to in the course of his travels are black, and he often challenges them with regard to American racial views and conditions (raised in Haiti and a Canadian resident, Laferrière's personal experiences clearly are different ones, and he sees America from an outsider's point of view). In conversation with the rapper Ice Cube he argues:
     Listen, Ice, I've traveled all over the Unit ed States to write this piece, and I can tell you that the black ghetto is the most closed-minded group of people on the face of the planet. You don't open up to anybody.
       Working his way through the racial landscape of America, and engaging with notable black Americans in a section of short chapters ("I like Toni Morrison. I don't like her books", he begins one; "I met Jean-Michel Basquiat a few days before he died. Before or after, it doesn't really matter" another), Laferrière also works his way through his own identity-issues. Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ? is also a journey of self-discovery, one where at the end the author can claim to someone: "I am not a black writer any more." (Of course, Laferrière can't free himself of labels and identity-issues quite so easily, and so almost two decades later he put a different spin on dealing with the same issues in the inspired I am a Japanese Writer .....)
       The impressions of the United States Laferrière offers, and some of his opinions are deliberately provocative (and general), such as his take on the national pastime, baseball (which leads him to conclude: "America is an essentially homosexual nation"). He offers his most expansive summary very early on:
I can tell you this: everything they say about America is true. It integrates everything. The world's soft underbelly. The last innocent nation. Compared to them, the Bushmen are clever little devils. [....] America is an overfed infant. And Americans live as if no one else existed on the continent. On the planet. [....] They pray to every god imaginable, and to one God, too. They kill with every possible method. They are strangers to remorse. The world is like a baby's rattle in their hands. They break it; they fix it. They know nothing about the past, and they despise the future. They are gods. And their blacks are demi-gods.
       Laferrière is a stranger in a strange land here, further burdened by his fame and reputation as an author and marked by the color of his skin. At one point he tells someone -- and wants to remind the reader as well:
Don't forget: I don't want to destroy America, I just want my piece of the pie -- and no crumbs, please. And I'm very level-headed about it.
       Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ? is a welcome take on the US, even if it is already slightly dated. Ultimately, however, it is more interesting simply as part of Laferrière's larger, very personal œuvre. Importantly, too, it's a very entertaining and often very amusing collection of thoughts and observations from a personal journey.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 March 2011

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Links:

Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex ?: Reviews: Other books by Dany Laferrière under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Dany Laferrière was born in Haiti in 1953, and now lives in Canada.

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© 2011 the complete review

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