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Publisher's Summary

The pioneering novel of physical disability, transatlantic travel, and black international politics. A vital document of black modernism and one of the earliest overtly queer fictions in the African American tradition. Published for the first time

Buried in the archive for almost 90 years, Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille traces the adventures of a rowdy troupe of dockworkers, prostitutes, and political organizers - collectively straight and queer, disabled and able-bodied, African, European, Caribbean, and American.

Set largely in the culture-blending Vieux Port of Marseille at the height of the Jazz Age, the novel takes flight along with Lafala, an acutely disabled but abruptly wealthy West African sailor. While stowing away on a transatlantic freighter, Lafala is discovered and locked in a frigid closet. Badly frostbitten by the time the boat docks, the once-nimble dancer loses both of his lower legs, emerging from life-saving surgery as what he terms "an amputated man." Thanks to an improbably successful lawsuit against the shipping line, however, Lafala scores big in the litigious United States. Feeling flush after his legal payout, Lafala doubles back to Marseille and resumes his trans-African affair with Aslima, a Moroccan courtesan.

With its scenes of black bodies fighting for pleasure and liberty even when stolen, shipped, and sold for parts, McKay's novel explores the heritage of slavery amid an unforgiving modern economy. This first-ever edition of Romance in Marseille includes an introduction by McKay scholars Gary Edward Holcomb and William J. Maxwell that places the novel within both the "stowaway era" of black cultural politics and McKay's challenging career as a star and skeptic of the Harlem Renaissance.

©2020 The Literary Estate for the Works of Claude McKay (P)2020 Recorded Books

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • AJ
  • 09-17-20

An important work

I picked up Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille as a Black History Month read. It contains an extensive introduction in which the reader learns a great deal about McKay and this book's long and elusive path to publication, having been written in the early 1930s, but only just now being released for the first time.

It's a turbulent story about redemption, revenge and strange loves gone astray. Touted as a forerunner of pro-disabled and LGBTQ literature, this may not satisfy the modern activist's mindset. While the main character's disability is the focal point of the book, any references to homosexuality are polite-society played down. This is certainly not as strident and explicit as a James Baldwin novel. But of course, this predates Baldwin by a few decades.

Viewed from the literary standpoint, there are minor problems. Some of the characterizations are ham-fisted, slightly too two-dimensional. A bit more nuance would have done a world of good. Perhaps this would have been addressed if the full version of this book had made it to print. What we have here is a shorter version of the entire manuscript. It's all that has survived to print. It's a shame, but I'm thankful for what we do have. Romance in Marseille, the book and its journey to publication, is important to literature.

31 people found this helpful

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Lush language, fair story, good pacing, excellent narrator

I found the story a little thin but the writing was lush and colorful. The characters and motivations could have been fleshed put more. His understanding of the various women’s motivations were stretched thin and his protagonist was far from admirable.

10 people found this helpful

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Skip the Introduction until Later

If you enjoy having the story minutely picked apart before you even read/listen to it, then the introduction and story notes are for you. They take up the first hour and 39+ minutes of the recording. After the first hour of the introduction I felt like I really didn't need to listen to the story anymore because I already knew everything that would happen. At that point I skipped ahead to the story. I wish I had known that was all coming and just listened to the story in the first place. The information about the creation and publication of the story was interesting, but better to wait until after you hear the story itself to hear all of the commentary about it.

1 person found this helpful

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Delicious and memorable

Shocking book that was written about a century ago.

It could have been written today. The characters in this book will stay with me for a long time.