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Kingsblood Royal by Sinclair Lewis

Kingsblood Royal (1947)

by Sinclair Lewis

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Showing 5 of 5
I can't recall the last time I read a farce or satire that slapped so hard, right from the start. I enjoyed the book to a certain extent, and rolled my eyes numerous times, but the lampooning here turns it up to eleven. I do think it went on too long and things were laid on very thick. The points would have been made and this would have been quite serviceable at a shorter length. It got a little boring.

This was published in 1947 and I think it is set in 1944 when it opens. Neil Kingsblood works at a bank following a term in the service where he was badly injured fighting in Italy. The fictional town of Grand Republic Michigan where he resides is a war industry town and although I wouldn't say Kingsblood is regarded as a local hero, he is referred to with respect as "Captain Kingsblood". He is a handsome man admired for who he is, and he has married above his class (before WW2) in what seems to be a very class conscious environment. His wife and four year old daughter benefit with him from Kingsblood's well-off in-laws and they live in a neighborhood that he would not be able to afford on his bank teller salary. He is not long back from the war and is reasonably ambitious.

Kingsblood does some family history research at the prompting of his father to find the "king's blood" connection to Henry VIII. They could be the legitimate royal family of England maybe! Capt Kingsblood instead discovers when given the name of a several times great supposed ancestor, that he is 1/32 black and at least that amount of Chippewa Indian. Kingsblood has some perhaps typical for the time racial views - all men are equal but some are more equal than others comes to my mind, to riff on 'Animal Farm'. He views blacks as inferior whereas he may have had some more liberal views beforehand. Still, there are all sorts of hierarchies of this white blood is better than that white blood, and here he was thinking he had the good white blood although there is that French bit supposedly, and now he is tainted with black. Indian blood he could live with, but black blood throws him into despair. The historian points out to him that in many states just "one drop" of negro blood renders him black. (I felt at times like I was watching an old silent movie with all the overacting going on)

Well, the story is a satire in the extreme. Just about every form of class and racial prejudice and crazy ideas that you can think of gets a sendup here. The story starts with the high class New Yorkers looking down on the hicks who live in Michigan. They contrast grain elevators with their glorious Empire State. Nothing is spared.

As I said at the beginning I think this goes on too long. The point is gotten across well but I would have slimmed this novel down by a 4th, and the author is really teetering with the absurd finale. Still, this all "works" in a way, because it hits all kinds of truth buttons. The novel is at it's best when it shows the reader how black people live and what they must live with in the supposedly unsegregated North. There are some poignant moments here. 1947 is well before my time so I can't know how it was then, but we have all seen class and racial prejudice, and we see it everyday with a U.S. President who was a white mother and a black father, as well as the class and racial strife across America.

Interesting read, but I wouldn't really recommend it. An odd book. This didn't make me a Sinclair Lewis fan, but I am glad to have sampled him. ( )
  RBeffa | May 5, 2015 |
This book...is both amusing and infuriating. Amusing because of Lewis's humorously ironic storytelling, and infuriating because of the injustices suffered by some of the characters in the book. Of course that's a given, with it being about racism.

A really interesting look into the times and issues. ( )
  broccolima | Jan 26, 2014 |
I had an English teacher in high school who spoke highly of this book in the late 60's, explaining that it was far ahead of its time in understanding race relations and anticipating their deterioration. I read it years afterward and agreed with her entirely. Lewis, who understood and portrayed the shallow materialism of American culture, also had insights into racial problems, which are sharply dramatized in Kingsblood Royal. There is fine use of irony throughout, starting from the title. ( )
1 vote bkinetic | Oct 13, 2010 |
Another interesting departure for Sinclair Lewis, who in this book examines the subject of race relations in America. This is accomplished by having the title character, Neil Kingsblood, discover that he is 1/32 or so Black, and therefore legally and socially a full-blooded Negro. An interesting treatment, somewhat spoiled by Lewis' failure to examine the quaint and condescending notion that an ostensibly white man with a drop of negro blood was nevertheless a full-blooded Negro. Inside this volume, by the way, is a 1947 copy of Wings Magazine, a book review magazine by the Literary Guild, with a long review of "Kingsblood Royal". ( )
1 vote burnit99 | Feb 5, 2007 |
Amazon: This novel is about a man of prominance in a Northern Minnesota city (I figured it to be a composite of Bemidji and Grand Rapids) who suddenly finds out he is descended from a Negro. He goes through a transformation of perspective on racial issues. In time, he declares himself publicly to be a "Negro". The effects of this declaration demonstrate the prejudices and ignorances (pardon the redundancy) of the US in the immediate post-WWII years.

Sinclair Lewis does a compelling job of ferreting out the evils of racial prejudices by showing how one previously accepted man of importance descends to the level of a societal pariah. Close friends turn away, well-meaning people succumb to pressure and cease their assistance, family members disavow him. At the same time, we become familiar with the Black residents of Grand Republic who share their trials and tribulations. I was impressed by how well Lewis covered his subject from so many angles. In doing so, he challenges the reader to examine where he or she would find themselves among the varied characters in "Kingsblood Royal"
1 vote | billyfantles | Sep 19, 2006 |
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Mr. Blingham, and may he fry in his own cooking oil, was assistant treasurer of the Flaver-Saver Company.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375756868, Paperback)

A neglected tour de force by the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature, Kingsblood Royal is a stirring and wickedly funny portrait of a man who resigns from the white race. When Neil Kingsblood a typical middle-American banker with a comfortable life makes the shocking discovery that he has African-American blood, the odyssey that ensues creates an unforgettable portrayal of two Americas, one black, one white.

As timely as when it was first published in 1947, one need only open today's newspaper to see the same issues passionately being discussed between blacks and whites that we find in Kingsblood Royal, says Charles Johnson. Perhaps only now can we fully appreciate Sinclair Lewis's astonishing achievement.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:49 -0400)

"When Neil Kingsblood--a typical middle-American banker with a comfortable life--makes the shocking discovery that he has African-American blood, the odyssey that ensues creates an unforgettable portrayal of two Americas, one black, one white." --Back cover.… (more)

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