Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.
©1993 Ellen Wright; (P)2008 HarperCollins Publishers
Native Son is an expertly-written thriller about crime and race and misguided ambition, read by one of the best narrators I have ever heard. It is, however, a very difficult book to listen to, as it deals hyper-realistically with the tragic life of a young black man who has all the potential in the world and ends up throwing it away because of the hate, ignorance, and prejudice that society has instilled in him. I have almost never come across such a believable protagonist; Bigger Thomas' story is the story of many, many angry young men out there in the world. The book struggles with issues of individual vs. societal responsibility, racism, interpersonal relations, and the moral nature of humanity, and never gives the reader any easy answers.
Great Narrator!! Switches voices between characters in a very convincing manner. Heartbreaking and terrifying story. Spellbound.
"Hi My name is Ali and I'm an Audible addict." "Hi Ali!"
This is such a great story! It is also very disturbing, the antihero, Bigger, will make the wrong choice every time and as a reader your saying "Oh no don't do that!" or "I can't believe..." It's a story that will make you heartsick and get a glimpse of the black experience.
Try this for a great combo: Listen to Native Son as an audio book while simultaneously reading Percival Everett’s Erasure. Even though the books are set fifty years apart, and some things have changed profoundly in this country in the intervening years in terms of race relations, I was astounded at how much has not changed. The protagonists of the two books are both black men in America. Native Son’s Bigger Thomas is an uneducated, poor, thuggish young man trying to get by in the segregated Chicago of the 1940s. Erasure’s protagonist, Monk Ellison, (note to self: re-read Ellison’s Invisible Man next) is a current-day university professor from a wealthy family that gave him every advantage imaginable. Despite these surface differences, both men’s lives are severely limited by the strictures and expectations placed on them by their respective time periods. And although Native Son was overlong and preachy, I found that the injustices depicted in the book echoed in Erasure, as they do in the everyday lives of many Black Americans. African American males still have much higher rates of unemployment than any other group of Americans—worse even than the employment rate of white felons. Black males in America are less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to be arrested, and more likely to go to prison. Native Son lays these and other injustices bare . . . if only we could say we had erased these problems in the years since it was written.
I confess that the motivation behind purchasing this audiobook was so that I had another 20th century classic in my arsenal for Jeopardy! I bought this without researching the plot. I only knew that it was about black v. white and that it is frequently considered one of the must-reads in African American Lit. I think it's good to listen to this story without knowing anything about the plot. It makes the twists and turns more surprising.
The performance by the narrator was fantastic. There were no fake voices or falsettos. It was just the narrator with a powerful voice and he was a perfect match. I'm not sure I would like this book as much if I read it on the page. The audio made it a performance. I buy audiobooks in order to entice myself to go to the gym more. I rely on the book to be interesting enough for me to want to listen and thus go workout. This story delivered.
Immigration lawyer in Kansas City. I like Character driven dramas, fantasy (monsters, magic and witches oh my!) and coming of age stories. Favs include: The Book Thief, The Game of Throne series, Harry Potter Series, Dresden Files, Nightside series, anything by Neil Gaimen, 100 Years of Solitude.
I somehow missed this book in high school and college and even in law school. But I am glad I finally got to it. It is a stark tale of race relations and "justice" in the early days of segregation that, sadly, has not changed enough to make the story a remote portrait of how it used to be in the United States. While clearly we do not like in the same openly racist society as the characters in the book, the inequalities for people of color in our justice system persist, though to a lesser extent, today.
at least we have moved away from the time that a judge can sentence someone to death and have that sentence carried out within months. The book is a dichotomy of a picture of how far we have come and not come at the same time. I am glad I read it.
Also a dear friend once told me that he always held Boris Max as one of his legal heroes. I can see why. He is a great portrayal of what it means to truly be a defense attorney. He was committed and fought for his client, who was difficult to fight for, all the way to the end.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
I enjoyed every aspect of this book. The writing, story and delivery are flawless. This book stands stark against the majority of books pumped out. Just as I was getting tired of my Audible account, comes this masterpiece.
The tension throughout is memorable. Best book for tension since Cime and Punishment.
No. I wanted to savor, absorb and enjoy the book.
this story was gripping and kept me on the edge of my bed and seat. you won't br able to put it down...
Took a class in college--Harlem Renaissance--that really resonated with me. We discussed Wright. Read some of his short stories, but never his books. I found the plot points after the girl went missing unbelievable, and the language purposefully inflammatory.
It's hard to say how different it was in 1940, certainly pre-Civil Rights. I find it hard to believe a prosecutor could call the defendant a "half monkey beast," or even would in a courtroom. Alas this is fiction, a literal allegory, stoked beneath by grumbling anger. I found myself angry too listening to it. Sometimes at gross inequalities of race/class relations at the time, sometimes at the author overexposing the worst traits in man in some of the antagonist characters. The story would have been hard to stomach if there wasn't a more heinous character to overshadow Bigger's crimes.
Next round I'm going back to McCay or Mencken.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Native Son was published in the 1940s but could have been written earlier or later because the story is not just of the past but of today and tomorrow.
The main character in "Native Son" is Bigger Thomas, an impoverished, unemployed, African American, 20 year old--living in a 1930’s Chicago ghetto. He lives with his mother, sister, and brother in a rat infested one room tenement, owned by a wealthy family that is about to offer him a job.
Bigger Thomas is rich if he has 50 cents in his pocket. However, he does not want to work for a living because he sees it as a dead end street, controlled by rich white people that will never let him follow any road beyond a choice or limit set by a white man. Bigger Thomas’s understanding is shaped by 20 years of living in substandard housing, ghettoized isolation, and an education that did not go beyond the 8th Grade.
Thomas is ironically given an opportunity to work for the owner of the tenement in which he lives. The offer is $35 per week ($10 more than average) to be a chauffeur for the family. Bigger takes the job but on the same night of the day he is hired, he murders his new employer’s daughter. It shocks the listener because the listener’s anticipation is that Bigger Thomas is on his way to breaking the cycle of poverty and becoming a part of the American Dream. But no, he chooses to kill his employer’s daughter.
Native Son is mostly written and spoken in one and two syllable words (the only exception is Bigger Thomas’ intellectualized legal defense that pricks a listener’s conscious to feel some sympathy for this terrible criminal.
Peter Francis James’ bass voice brings Richard Wright’s characters to life but this is not a story to listen to for pleasure; it is a story that improves understanding of discrimination, isolation, and poverty (social ills still evident in the world) and their unintended consequences.
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