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Kingsblood Royal by Sinclair Lewis
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Kingsblood Royal (1947)

by Sinclair Lewis

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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 |
Lewis' fascinating but flawed race-parable is a frustrating novel, rewarding in places, but ultimately unsatisfying. It fails in terms of plotting and a massively, wildly unresolved ending that any editor should have sent back for a re-draft. It succeeds in recreating the bewildering Alice in Wonderland world of race relations in America immediately after the Second World War, in Lewis' pet fictional-experimental town of Grand Republic, Minnesota.

Neil Kingsblood is a decorated Army veteran, returned wounded from the fighting in Europe, trying to rebuild his civilian life. His father idly sets him a challenge to investigate the family's origins, because it is suspected by some that they are descended from the kings and queens of England. Instead, Neil finds, quite by chance, that a distant relative called Xavier Pic was in fact a full-blooded Negro, from the West Indies, who married a Native American. Although it was five generations before, making Neil only one-thirty-second Negro, that is enough - as it were - under the laws of the time.

Neil's world is subsequently turned upside down as he wrestles with this news, which he initially keeps a secret. He gives no external physical indication of his heritage, and indeed, this showed readers then - and now - of just how stupid and random the standards of "race" were. But in a bewildering plot twist - perhaps because Lewis wanted to highlight Neil's desire for "honesty in the face of reality" - Neil reveals his heritage publicly, and is subsequently ostracised and treated just as the other blacks in GR, whom he looks nothing like.

There is something sophomoric about Lewis' plotting, but his prose writing remains as vibrant and upbeat as ever, evoking the speech of the day with stunning accuracy, and the racial epithets. One could be forgiven for thinking that Lewis had a list of what are now highly-offensive and rarely-heard terms (with the exception of the "n-word", most of these I have not heard since childhood) which were nevertheless common at the time, and used them in rotation.

All-in-all, a strange, yet strangely compelling book, which should merit a re-examination of Lewis' Grand Republic novels, in which old friends like Judge Cass Timberlane make re-appearances. Continued, presumably, in The God-Seeker, which is up next for me to read, if I don't go back to Cass Timberlane first. But if it fails narratively, and in believability, it remains an important book on the subject of race in America in the post-war years. 3.5/5 stars. ( )
  Bill_Bibliomane | Dec 6, 2013 |
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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