Man Booker

The Sellout, a sell out

This is a review of The Sellout by Paul Beatty.

The novel is a political satire that can come off as a disturbing and disparaging reflection of the society. It’s about a black man, identified only as ‘Me’ or ‘The Sellout’, who is amused and angry with the American society for pretending not to be racist, and for forcing integration that many apparently would rather not be a part of. It hence provides a sharp reflection of the American society that has failed to become a society of equals.

His father, who home schooled him through unorthodox sociological and psychological conditioning methods, is killed in a police shootout. Soon after, his city, Dickens, is struck out of maps and left unidentified. Aghast, he tries to reclaim the identity of the city and figure his own identity out in the process. So, first, he goes about painting a rough boundary across the region to mark his city. Also, Hominy, a friend and a former side actor in TV shows, surrenders himself to Me as a slave (because “true freedom includes the right to be a slave”)! The Sellout then segregates his girlfriend’s bus, with a “whites only” sign. When he does it, the number of fights and complaints, typical to the bus, falls drastically. And what’s more, people try to reproduce such segregation in other parts of the ‘city’. Crime rates drop and people are nicer. Even the city’s elementary school is segregated with the help of Me and Hominy the Slave, leading to better performance of the students.

Eventually the State catches on, and a case is filed against Me. The case is escalated to the Supreme Court, where the Judge asks, finally, “whether a violation of civil rights law that results in the very same achievement these heretofore mentioned statutes were meant to promote, yet have failed to achieve, is in fact a breach of said civil rights.” This is the crux of the book. Is forced integration, which is mostly pointless and often debases a man, the right thing to do? Is it not better to not enforce integration if that’s what the people concerned want? Or as Hominy asks, “are we missing the forest for the trees”?

This review may make The Sellout seem like it’s a serious and highly political novel. But it’s also hilarious. At many instances, you’ll find yourself smiling at the genius. And you’ll be astounded by what is happening too. Beatty continuously disturbs, offends and jokes, through passages imbued with too much meaning to be called merely comedy.

My only real and major grouse with the book is that I didn’t follow some of the American popular culture references. The novel doesn’t really have a plot, but rides along just fine with the help of the biting humor. It also rolls like a speeding truck, from one crack of dry sarcasm to another, so it gives you little time to breathe between the lines.

Beatty incessantly pokes fun at literature, movies, etc., for selling out to the majoritarian views of the society. That made me wonder, now that The Sellout is as world famous and is being sold out at bookstores due to its apparent conformity to the majority of the buyers’ views, does that make this book a sellout too?

The final verdict: The Sellout is meant to be re-read till one is tired by the irony of the world one lives in.

4/5.

Here’s an excerpt (that I thought needs to be written in bold, underlined and italicized):

“What does that mean, I’m offended?”… “It’s not even an emotion. What does being offended say about how you feel?”… “If I ever were to be offended, I wouldn’t know what to do. If I’m sad, I cry. If I’m happy, I laugh. If I’m offended, what do I do, state in a clear and sober voice that I’m offended, then walk away in a huff so I can write a letter to the mayor?”

Why do we fall, Alfred?

This is my review of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

I’ve never actually met a butler, or know anyone who has. Still, the stereotypes surrounding the profession are familiar to anyone who reads fiction. The ever elegant Jeeves, the wise Alfred, the impeccably trained Butlers of the Artemis Fowl series, they all fit the dignified, reserved image.

This novel is from the point of view of Stevens, head butler at Darlington Hall. Much to his disappointment, the mansion was bought by an American gentleman after World War II, and is being run with a fraction of its original support staff. He reminisces about the glory days of the Hall, when its influential owner held meetings of international importance under the guise of house parties.

Stevens believes that the foremost responsibility of a butler is to maintain dignity and composure. However, his facade soon cracks as he remembers his father’s death and the loss of a good ”friend”, Miss Kenton, while on a road trip through England. Ishiguro deftly reveals deeper layers of the butler’s character through the course of the novel (like peeling an onion?). Stevens is the definition of an unreliable narrator however, he is reluctant to speak ill of his employers, and rarely indicates his true feelings on any matter.

Kazuo Ishiguro usesĀ a slow, descriptive writing style, similar to his other hit, Never Let Me Go. The voice of Stevens is stilted, formal, and touching, and exactly what one would expect from a butler! It is painful to see him distance himself from Miss Kenton- though whether this is out of professionalism or sheer obliviousness is unclear. At under 200 pages, there is hardly an unnecessary word.

This book was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, proof that it is a true masterpiece. Read this if you appreciate books with subtlety and beautiful prose. This book is sure to become a classic, at least in English Lit classes. 4/5 from me.