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John Henry Days (2001)

by Colson Whitehead

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6461325,639 (3.61)35
'John Henry Days' is a novel of extraordinary scope and mythic power. Recognised as one of the novels of 2001, it establishes Colson Whitehead as one of the pre-eminent young American writers of our time. Building the railways that made America, John Henry died with a hammer in his hand moments after competing against a steam drill in a battle of endurance. The story of his death made him a legend. Over a century later, J. Sutter, a freelance journalist and accomplished expense account abuser, is sent to West Virginia to cover the launch of a new postage stamp at the first 'John Henry Days' festival. John Henry Days is a riveting portrait of America. Through a patchwork of interweaving histories Colson Whitehead triumphantly reveals how a nation creates its present through the stories it tells of its past.… (more)

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» See also 35 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
I DNF at 21 percent. I tried to finish this book, but honestly nothing was grabbing me at all. Initially, I was intrigued about how Whitehead would weave in John Henry into the story, but instead we seem to be flip flopping between different narrative styles. I really loved "Underground Railroad" and was hoping for more of the same here, but this book really needed some magical realism or something like the former book to really make it stand out.

"John Henry Days" takes a look at folk hero John Henry and an African American journalist (called J) who is flying into the town that claims him to write about the John Henry Days celebration. Whitehead goes back and forth between J and just random characters in this book. I think this is his way of taking a look at race in America. I just couldn't force myself to keep reading this.

I didn't care one whit about J the only character that I think that we follow through this whole book. I found the writing to be uneven. There were way too many metaphors. The chapters were really short too which doesn't allow you enough time to get settled into whatever POV you are currently in while reading. ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
Disappointing after the excellent Intuitionist. ( )
  CSRodgers | Aug 10, 2014 |
A look at the variations on the legend of John Henry and how it has affected people, black and white. Best part is the description of the life of a journalistic junketeer. Earlier work than "Apex Hides the Hurt," and less disciplined and tight, but always interesting.

Read more reviews at http://thegrimreader.blogspot.com ( )
  nohrt4me2 | Sep 9, 2013 |
I'm either several years too late reading this book, or several years too early—Whitehead's descriptions of the early dotcom boom and its accompanying technology, of journalists (sorry, "journalists") on pointless junkets, while rendered in some wonderful prose, now seems dated. I don't think enough time has passed for descriptions of how a bot works, or how early search engines were compiled, to have acquired some sort of retro nostalgia.

This, of course, is a quibble which Whitehead couldn't necessarily have foreseen or done much about—that's just how things go. What he could have done, however, was to get his editor to do one more pass through John Henry Days. I found the first quarter to a third of the book to be immensely readable, full of wry humour and snapping prose. As the book wore on, though, it all became a little leaden, and some of the turns of phrase didn't make sense if you stopped to think about it—there was more than a hint of the overwritten about it. I got why some of the chapters tracing John Henry's impact during the years since his death were necessary and there; others, though, made it seem as if Whitehead, like J. Sutter, were being paid a dollar a word in order to get across the Grand Central Revelation which anyone would have realised fairly quickly.

This is not to say that John Henry Days is a bad book. I read large parts of it with pleasure, and would certainly try other books by Whitehead, but I would much rather have read a shorter novel he'd written about John Henry himself. I feel that such a book wouldn't have tried so hard to be More Hip and Ironic than Thou. ( )
  siriaeve | Feb 6, 2012 |
I admired the creativity of the book but it was a slow slog. I enjoyed his latest(Sag Harbor) much more. This was a book that I read because of the authors reputation. I will try to read more by him, but would not recommend this book when compared to Sag Harbor ( )
  nivramkoorb | Jun 30, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Whitehead, Colsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Testa, MartinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Vor ungefähr fündundzwanzig Jahren war ich in Morgan County Kentucky.
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'John Henry Days' is a novel of extraordinary scope and mythic power. Recognised as one of the novels of 2001, it establishes Colson Whitehead as one of the pre-eminent young American writers of our time. Building the railways that made America, John Henry died with a hammer in his hand moments after competing against a steam drill in a battle of endurance. The story of his death made him a legend. Over a century later, J. Sutter, a freelance journalist and accomplished expense account abuser, is sent to West Virginia to cover the launch of a new postage stamp at the first 'John Henry Days' festival. John Henry Days is a riveting portrait of America. Through a patchwork of interweaving histories Colson Whitehead triumphantly reveals how a nation creates its present through the stories it tells of its past.

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