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Nothing Trumps Time
am 5. Januar 2003
Richard Powers is an exceptional writer who follows no one, not even his own single muse, his writing is too varied. He writes like no other author I can think of, his work is unique. I have read all his published work save one, and this is by far the most ambitious in terms of its human element. His are not just characters dealing with a conflict, but people defined by, tortured, terrified and completely lost by the concept of race, and how their own racial blend or puzzle structure, define and are used to define them.
There is no peace
Black and white is not complex enough; the original couple additionally brings the paradox of differing religions to the racial mix and then let these ingredients, that become demons when let loose, to burden their children. The meeting of the couple that catalyzes the tale takes place at a concert at The Lincoln Memorial, located there, for the female singer of color cannot perform elsewhere, a First Lady must step in and do what is right, what everyone else fails to do.
Race trumps love
Classical music, white European music brings this couple together that will start a family of unique and exceptionally gifted children. Yet no amount of talent, no shade of pigmentation however light, allows them the freedom to be judged, as one man who had a dream so badly wanted. A flawless voice cannot be so considered on its own because of the music it sings, when is white not white, one-half, one drop, is there anything that can lay claim to purely white?
Self versus caste versus race
As the children grow they become incredibly diverse, ranging from a brilliant international performer, to a confused middle sibling who is nearly as talented, and either uniquely lost, or allows it to show when his siblings do not, and the youngest who becomes a militant civil rights crusader, who embraces violence as she rejects her closest family. The issue of race becomes so violent and divisive that accusing someone of complicity of murder even when the accused is a family member and the victim another member of the family, her anger knows no bounds.
A mother in law tries to explain the frustration her husband feels when watching what he views as a naive attitude at best, and a dangerous one at worst, the idea to raise children without having them allow themselves to be defined by race. The comment that is shared in an attempt to explain is, He don't like you scrubbing these leopards spotless. And that gets to the heart of the book, what is the definition of race when the lines are literally no longer viewed as black and white, even if pure black and pure white have been nothing but a charade for generations?
On one extreme there is the attitude that one drop of black blood means white is gone, and then there is the issue of passing for white, or insisting on being black even though a person is lighter than some whites.
I am not doing justice to this book, and I am afraid I am making it sound like a series of clichés; nothing could be father than the truth. I spent many weeks with this book, and read many portions more than once. It is very dense, complex, and is full of frustration, just as the subject it attempts to deal with demands.
There are few authors that could attempt such a book. Richard Powers does so and brings the world of music in to the story as a primary character, a character that has appeared in other works he has written. This author is not a writer who does variations on a theme, to say he is great at ideas and poor on people, is to suggest the absurd. His works tend to be lengthy, and they need to be. The man is not writing with the goal of making bestseller's lists, and his books would be castrated if they attempted to make a movie from one.
Richard Powers is amongst those who write books first, last and always. He produces massive, thought provoking books that are not intended, nor could they be adapted to the big or small screens. They are meant to be read and kept between covers.
He is one of the finest writers working today.