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White Tears by Hari Kunzru
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White Tears (edition 2017)

by Hari Kunzru (Author)

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7114732,228 (3.81)42
Fiction. Literature. Mystery. HTML:White Tears is a ghost story, a terrifying murder mystery, a timely meditation on race, and a love letter to all the forgotten geniuses of American music and Delta Mississippi Blues.
"An incisive meditation on race, privilege and music. Spanning decades, this novel brings alive the history of old-time blues and Americaâ??s racial conscience."â??Rabeea Saleem, Chicago Review of Books 

Two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the glamorous heir to one of America's great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it's a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter's troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation's darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploit
… (more)
Member:maxhumphries
Title:White Tears
Authors:Hari Kunzru (Author)
Info:Hamish Hamilton (2017), Edition: 1, 288 pages
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White Tears by Hari Kunzru

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» See also 42 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Supernaturalism and blues music go together like neon lights and strip clubs. Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, after all, and the exact details of much of both are murky, dark, and a touch exotic. So a novel about a dead bluesman whose personal history is exceedingly hazy reaching out from the past is not so surprising; nor, separately, is making it into a very contemporary horror genre story that feels exactly of this moment, reckoning with America’s deeply racist past and how that reality continues to shape how things are today.

Unfortunately the story gets too far gone in its hallucinatory melange of past and present and strays over the line into incoherentness, but an interesting failure at least has the interesting part going for it. ( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
A pretty good horror novel about the fetishization and appropriation of Black music. It covers a lot of similar ground as John Hornor Jacobs' novella My Heart Struck Sorrow, one of my favorite horror reads, though subject of American racism is the subject here rather than one element of many. The resolution of the plot felt earned, and the writing itself was satisfying, though the middle third or so took a turn for the incoherent. Unlike in many horror narratives where the horror elements and the "real" thing the horror represents undermine each other, the supernatural and the natural worked cohesively together. Satisfying. ( )
  maddietherobot | Oct 21, 2023 |
Surrealist tale of two white music producers, one a collector and the other an engineer, who record a faux “blues track,” complete with crackles and hisses, but find out later it is a real song by an old-time forgotten black blues musician. This finding leads to a series of events that reflect the racist history of America by telling the story of a prominent family that has grown its wealth from the seeds of racial intolerance and greed. The protagonist is a good friend of one of the younger family members who has renounced his family’s legacy.

The first half is a relatively straight-forward tale of obsessively collecting old blues records and recording street noises. The second half is full of time shifts, a melding together of past and present, and illusory specters (which could be a by-product of mental illness). This is one of those books where I can appreciate the literary artistry, but the supernatural portion of the book is not something that generally appeals to me. I found it jarring to the flow of the narrative to try to figure out if the events being described are occurring in the current time to the protagonist or happened in the past to the blues musician. I think this book will appeal to those that can just “go with the flow” and not constantly try to figure it out.

I liked this book. It is very creative, and the writing is brilliant. I enjoyed first half and found the overall message relevant. It reminds us that behind each one of those old blues recordings is a personal story of heartache, suffering, poverty, and injustice.

“When you listen to an old record, there can be no illusion that you are present at a performance. You are listening through a gray drizzle of static, a sound like rain. You can never forget how far away you are. You always hear it, the sound of distance in time. But what is the connection between the listener and the musician? Does it matter that one of you is alive and one is dead? And which is which?” ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Ghost Voices

In human history, voices precluded from speaking, not just lost but knowingly suppressed before anyone can hear them, number in the millions. Charlie Shaw, the pivotal character in Hari Kunzru White Tears, a musician who at first doesn’t exist, then exists as the product of Seth’s and Carter’s imaginations, and finally as a ghost voice reaching out over the years to haunt Seth, and to be heard, finally, can be read as the allegorical representation of these many millions who were repressed by others. You’re left to wonder what the untold lost voices might have said about their own oppression, as does Charlie about his, or what they might have contributed, as Charlie might have to the evolution of the Blues.

Kunzru’s novel opens as a mystery, the mystery of whom the seemingly invented Charlie Shaw was. Seth, something of an amateur sound archeologist, excavating the sounds and voices around him, hears a black chess player in Washington Square sing “Believe I buy a graveyard of my own/Believe I buy me a graveyard of my own/Put my enemies all down in the ground,” the first of five tercets. When Carter, a wealthy guy whom Seth met in art school who likes old-time analog sound and enjoys audibly antiquing recordings, pushes Seth to create a 78rpm version of the song, along with an authentic looking shellac plate and label, they set in motion a chain of events that, in the end, transcend the boundaries of time.

A mysterious collector appears to inform them that Charlie Shaw was real, an early 20th century musical pioneer, and their record must be the missing, and thus very rare, platter recorded at the Saint James Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi in the Twenties. What’s more, he claims it is the very recording sought decades earlier by his collector mentor, Chester Bly, the quest for which drove the man mad. Seth, after Carter turns up beaten into insensibility and in something of a sexually inspired puerile alliance with Leonie, Carter’s sister, retraces Bly’s quest. The consequences not only prove deadly, but the endeavor opens Seth to a sort of possession by the spirit of Charlie Shaw. In this state, he traverses time, often times in a single sentence, in which Carter’s family, the Wallaces, play a prominent part in the art of repression that grows and multiplies into a giant conglomerate, at the heart of which is correctional management, that is, private prisons.

White Tears is a novel that begins conventionally then dashes headlong into an impressionistic exploration of repression and racism, with a side trip into the proclivities of the one-percent. ( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
Ghost Voices

In human history, voices precluded from speaking, not just lost but knowingly suppressed before anyone can hear them, number in the millions. Charlie Shaw, the pivotal character in Hari Kunzru White Tears, a musician who at first doesn’t exist, then exists as the product of Seth’s and Carter’s imaginations, and finally as a ghost voice reaching out over the years to haunt Seth, and to be heard, finally, can be read as the allegorical representation of these many millions who were repressed by others. You’re left to wonder what the untold lost voices might have said about their own oppression, as does Charlie about his, or what they might have contributed, as Charlie might have to the evolution of the Blues.

Kunzru’s novel opens as a mystery, the mystery of whom the seemingly invented Charlie Shaw was. Seth, something of an amateur sound archeologist, excavating the sounds and voices around him, hears a black chess player in Washington Square sing “Believe I buy a graveyard of my own/Believe I buy me a graveyard of my own/Put my enemies all down in the ground,” the first of five tercets. When Carter, a wealthy guy whom Seth met in art school who likes old-time analog sound and enjoys audibly antiquing recordings, pushes Seth to create a 78rpm version of the song, along with an authentic looking shellac plate and label, they set in motion a chain of events that, in the end, transcend the boundaries of time.

A mysterious collector appears to inform them that Charlie Shaw was real, an early 20th century musical pioneer, and their record must be the missing, and thus very rare, platter recorded at the Saint James Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi in the Twenties. What’s more, he claims it is the very recording sought decades earlier by his collector mentor, Chester Bly, the quest for which drove the man mad. Seth, after Carter turns up beaten into insensibility and in something of a sexually inspired puerile alliance with Leonie, Carter’s sister, retraces Bly’s quest. The consequences not only prove deadly, but the endeavor opens Seth to a sort of possession by the spirit of Charlie Shaw. In this state, he traverses time, often times in a single sentence, in which Carter’s family, the Wallaces, play a prominent part in the art of repression that grows and multiplies into a giant conglomerate, at the heart of which is correctional management, that is, private prisons.

White Tears is a novel that begins conventionally then dashes headlong into an impressionistic exploration of repression and racism, with a side trip into the proclivities of the one-percent. ( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Hari Kunzru has written a timely novel that demands an examination of the toxicity and perniciousness of whiteness. With razor-sharp insights, White Tears depicts what Greg Tate calls “everything but the burden”: the history of whiteness in the United States as a series of violent appropriations and erasures of black life, black experience, and black culture — which it has attempted to eliminate both physically (the prison industrial complex is but one recent example) and culturally (by turning black culture into commodity fetish).
 
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I rolled and I tumbled 
Cried the whole night long 
Woke up this morning 
I didn't know right from wrong
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For Katie
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That summer I would ride my bike over the bridge, lock it up in the front of one of the bars on Orchard Street and drift through the city on foot, recording.
Quotations
When you listen to an old record, there can be no illusion that you are present at a performance. You are listening through a gray drizzle of static, a sound like rain. You can never forget how far away you are. You always hear it, the sound of distance in time.
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Fiction. Literature. Mystery. HTML:White Tears is a ghost story, a terrifying murder mystery, a timely meditation on race, and a love letter to all the forgotten geniuses of American music and Delta Mississippi Blues.
"An incisive meditation on race, privilege and music. Spanning decades, this novel brings alive the history of old-time blues and Americaâ??s racial conscience."â??Rabeea Saleem, Chicago Review of Books 

Two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the glamorous heir to one of America's great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it's a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter's troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation's darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploit

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