Book: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: Originally published in 1952
Summary: Invisible Man tells the story of an unnamed young black man from the day he gives a speech that wins him a college scholarship through numerous and layered experiences of opportunities and disillusionment. The book is set mostly in New York City during the first half of the twentieth century. The Harlem Renaissance is portrayed as darker and grittier than that nostalgic term implies. It wasn’t all jazz clubs and conversation among brilliant writers and social activists. Desperation and the potential for violence lurked in all the shadowy corners, and the invisible man stumbled into many of them.
Thoughts: Our book club really liked this book, much better than we expected. For many of us, this felt like a book we should read more than one we wanted to read — like Shakespeare’s sonnets or War and Peace. As it turned out, Invisible Man is a gripping page-turner of a novel with passages that force slowness because of the aching beauty of the prose. The connections linking different parts of the story are masterful and subtle. I’m sure I still didn’t get all of them, but our discussion helped illuminate ones that I missed.
We agreed that Invisible Man deserves all of its accolades, including the National Book Award, and we’d put it on any list of Great American novels.
The story has startling parallels to modern events. This makes it a bit depressing — to see that there are ways that we haven’t progressed at all in the last 70 years. But, overall, the story, while not hopeful, does illuminate the human condition and leaves the reader with the sense of being not alone in our aloneness.
For a nonfiction companion, I’ll point you to another our book club’s favorite selections: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. The Warmth of Other Suns provides the context of the move by many black Americans, including the narrator of Invisible Man, from the rural South to cities in the North.
Appeal: US and international readers who seek the best that American literature has to offer.
Challenges: Invisible Man is my fourth chunkster of the year, so I met my Chunkster Reading Challenge 2015 goal of four books! And, it’s my seventh book that features People of the Global Majority, so I met my goal for Diversity on the Shelf 2015, too! Cool to complete two great challenges with one great book. I anticipate finishing more books for both challenges in 2015.
Have you read this book? What did you think?