As we are a group of fairly nerdy people, myself and some of my friends recently decided to start a book club, where we meet every month to
eat cheese and drink wine discuss our thoughts and opinions on the book of the month.
The first book we decided on was ‘The Sellout’, by Paul Beatty, winner of the 2016 Man Booker prize.
From the very first line of the book – ‘This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything’ – the reader knows they are in for a wild, provocative ride. The prologue of the book finds the black protagonist (‘Bonbon Me’) getting high in the Supreme Court, charged with owning a slave, and attempting to bring back segregation to his home community of Dickens, California.
During his youth, Bonbon is home-schooled by his father, who subjects him to a range of twisted psychological studies in an attempt to show his son the realities of racism in modern-day America. Following the murder of his father at the hands of the police, Bonbon buries him in his farmyard, and embarks on a mission to ‘bring back’ his disappeared hometown, through the re-introduction of segregation to various aspects of his community. Further adding to the surreal atmosphere of the book, Bonbon finds himself as a reluctant slave-owner, when after saving the life of local semi-celebrity Hominy Jenkins (a former child-star of The Little Rascals), Hominy demands Bonbon become his ‘masser’.
Throughout the novel, there were many occasions when I actually laughed out loud, at some of the most golden satire I’ve read in a very long time. The book manages to explore a multitude of relevant political and social issues, while maintaining a razor-sharp sense of humour throughout.
As someone who considers themselves to be reasonably well-read, it came as quite a shock the number of times I had to actually stop and google a particular word or phrase, which I found slightly frustrating as it interrupted the flow of the book, but at the same time, it was refreshing to feel stretched and challenged as I read. The fairly frequent references to American culture and black history also made me reflect on how little I know about these areas, and made me resolve to learn more.
In conclusion, The Sellout is exciting, brutal, timely, and hilarious, although a somewhat exhausting read at times, and one that really opened my eyes to some of the rampant racism that continues even in the twenty-first century.
Recommended for; Those with an interest in psychology / sociology, lovers of satire, anyone who wants to feel intellectually challenged or find out more about racism in modern-day America.