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Black Like Me, Novel Review

Fuuh... Completed reading this book two weeks ago but just manage to write some reviews on it now. First, how did I get this book? I did not, actually. I have only the duplicate copy; accidentally found it when I hang out at my friend’s photocopy shop. The title "Black like Me" has attracted my cynical sense of curiosity to know what's inside it. So, I asked my friend to make one copy for me. And now that I completed my reading, I would definitely look out for the original version of it.

I found out there are thousands of reviews and comments through internet. Since the book was written way back there in 1959, it has become part of history-telling book; North American history to be precise. A movie has been produced based on the story of this book in 1964. In 1959, at the time of the book's writing, race relations were particularly strained in North America. John Howard Griffin, the author and main character of this book, is a middle-aged white man living in Mansfield, Texas in 1959, which are deeply committed to the cause of racial justice. Frustrated by his inability as a white man to understand the black experience, Griffin decides to take a radical step: he decides to undergo medical treatment to change the color of his skin and temporarily become a black man. After securing the support of his wife and of George Levitan, the editor of a black-oriented magazine called Sepia which will fund Griffin's experience in return for an article about it, Griffin sets out for New Orleans to begin his life as a black man.


Griffin expects to find prejudice, oppression, and hardship, but he is shocked at the extent of it: everywhere he goes, he experiences difficulties and insults. The word "nigger" seems to echo from every street corner. It is impossible to find a job, or even a restroom that blacks are allowed to use. Clerks refuse to cash his checks, and a white bully nearly attacks him before he chases the man away. These are all real experiences and to understand the fact that one man purposely fake his skin color to experience such horrible moments in his life, this what greatly amazed me as a reader. Hence, should I say Howard Griffin is an “antonym” of Michael Jackson? No, because Griffin’s black skin color only last for two months whereas Jacko’s one are permanent.


Griffin then travel into the Deep South of Mississippi and Alabama, which are reputed to be even worse for blacks. He is disheartened and exhausted, but manages to rejuvenate his spirit with a help of his friend P.D. East, a newspaperman who is ferociously opposed to racism. After a long hitchhiking trip throughout Alabama and Mississippi, Griffin finds that conditions for blacks are appalling, and that black communities seem run-down and defeated. But in Montgomery, however, the black community is charged with determination and energy by the example of one of its leaders, a preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr. Blacks in Montgomery have begun practicing passive resistance, a nonviolent form of refusing to comply with racist laws and rules.


Griffin depressed and weary of life as a black man, briefly stops taking his medication and lightens his skin back to his normal color. He begins alternating back and forth between races, visiting a place first as a black man and then as a white man. He notices immediately that when he is a white man, whites treat him with respect and blacks treat him with suspicious fear; when he is a black man, blacks treat him with generosity and warmth, while whites treat him with hostility and contempt.


After series of interviews and photographic record of his time, he permanently returns his skin color to white, returns to his family and writes his article, which is published in March 1960. The story of his amazing experience quickly spreads around the world, and he receives a flood of congratulatory mail, as well as interviews invitations from television shows and newsmagazines. In Mansfield, however, the prevalent attitude is that of racism, and Griffin and his family becomes the subject of hateful reprisals. An effigy of Griffin, painted half white and half black, is burned on Main Street; a cross is burned in a Negro schoolyard; threats are made against Griffin, including one to castrate him. By August, things are so bad that he has decided to move his family to Mexico.


However, the book made him receive international respect as a human rights activist. After its publication, he became a leading advocate in the Civil Rights Movement and did much to promote awareness of racial situations.


It has been erroneously claimed that the large doses of Oxsoralen John Howard Griffin used in 1959 eventually led to his death in 1980 at age 60 from (the claim asserts) skin cancer. However, Griffin never had skin cancer; the only negative symptoms he suffered because of the drug were temporary and minor. The worst, arguably, were fatigue and nausea.


Griffin had suffered from myriad health problems for much of his adult life: in addition to a severe head injury he suffered in World War II, Griffin contracted malaria, which attacked his spine and temporarily paralyzed him. He later developed both diabetes and osteomyelitis. In 1976, Griffin suffered a heart attack during a lecture tour; he would suffer several more in the final four years of his life.


Dream Variations by Langston Hughes

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me-
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening...
A tall, slim tree...
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

(This poem is where the novel gets its name)

This review I referred to few different sources:
1- The Novel “Black Like Me”
2- Info from Wiki
3- Review from other internet sources


 

3 comments:

  1. Azren Ahmad said,

    Tak payah-lar cite kat orang buku awak tuh pirate... kalau awak pendidik..

    on July 11, 2009 at 12:01 PM  


  2. sibuk lah awak nih.. pi maen jauh-jauh..

    on July 11, 2009 at 12:14 PM  


  3. sori ye bos. main2 je. jgn mrh :-)

    on July 11, 2009 at 9:33 PM