First published in 1923, Jean Toomer's Cane is an innovative literary work powerfully evoking black life in the South. Rich in imagery, Toomer's impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic sketches of Southern rural and urban life are permeated by visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and fire; the northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. This iconic work of American literature is published with a new afterword by Rudolph Byrd of Emory University and Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University, who provide groundbreaking biographical information on Toomer, place his writing within the context of American modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, and examine his shifting claims about his own race and his pioneering critique of race as a scientific or biological concept.
©1923 Boni & Liveright, renewed 1951 Jean Toomer; Afterword © 2011 Rudolph P. Byrd and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., reprinted from Cane: Authoritive Text, Contexts, Criticism; "Toomer" by Elizabeth Alexander, © 2010 Elizabeth Alexander (P)2013 Dreamscape Media, LLC
"This book should be on all readers' and writers' desks and in their minds." (Maya Angelou)
"By far the most impressive product of the Negro Renaissance, Cane ranks with Richard Wright's Native Son and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man as a measure of the Negro novelist's highest achievement. Jean Toomer belongs to that first rank of writers who use words almost as a plastic medium, shaping new meanings from an original and highly personal style." (Robert A. Bone, The Negro Novel in America)
Toomer's CANE contains some of the most musical language in Black lit. So musical in fact that Gil Scott-Heron put it to music in the late seventies. This reader erases every trace of music from the text. It's virtually unlistenable. I don't imagine I'll buy anything else read by this narrator.
This audiobook is a perfect example of how to artfully narrate a classic, and I was delighted to see it offered on audio. The reader gets the accents right, can pronounce everything he has to, and more importantly hits the perfect tone, not overacting the dialogue or injecting pathos, which lesser readers would be tempted to do. Instead, there's a restraint to the narration, which makes the few places where he does indulge a character voice, such as the super-bad King Barlo in the "Esther" story, all the more impactful. I found myself easily slipping into Toomer's imagistic trance, not pulled out by any affectations of delivery. Bravo Sean Crisden!
It should be noted that this is a complex, experimental book that rewards rereading. I'm not sure if listening is the way to go if it's your first time through, but as someone who has read and reread this book over the years, I loved hearing this audio version. It took me deeper into the text that reading alone has. I found the reader especially good with the poetry, where again the reader resisted over-emoting. The last section, Kabnis is a bit plodding, as it is written like a play, and the narrative doesn't always flow. But this is no fault of the reader; it's the text as Toomer wrote it.
Too often, classic, challenging works are severely botched in their audio versions. I hope producers and actors will follow the example that this one sets.
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