An American tragedy--and a massive classic of reader-friendly, objective scholarship that delivers its most moving moments...

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PAUL ROBESON: A Biography

An American tragedy--and a massive classic of reader-friendly, objective scholarship that delivers its most moving moments from a cautious distance. Robeson's gifts and deeds bordered on the superhuman. The son of an escaped slave, he was truly a Renaissance man: all-around college and professional athlete, Phi Beta Kappa and class valedictorian at Rutgers, linguist fluent in more than 20 languages, Shakespearean actor, film actor (Showboat, King Solomon's Mines), first interpreter of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones, ground-breaking black lawyer, great concert artist, brilliant musicologist, the world's most famed singer of spirituals, public speaker--and the Great Black Hope for many blacks in his will to help ""the race to a higher life."" In later life, he supressed memories of his youth because they filled him with fury. His prodigious talents came crashing down when the promise of the New Deal faded and he found favor in the Soviet Union, espoused Socialism, became the target of McCarthyism, caused riots at his appearances, and was hounded out of his skin by the FBI. In years following, he needed electroshock for recurrent depression and suicide attempts. By his death, he had faded greatly as a black presence. Duberman (Charles Francis Adams, 1807-1886) sympathetically limns Robeson mostly from the outside-in--while rarely suggesting what Robeson's inner life might have been unless Robeson's own comment is on record. The author's research is staggering but will be too evenhanded for some, particularly in his resistance to painting the FBI in deepest black for its role in hounding Robeson and breaking down his health, mind, and will to fight to the death for civil rights. Overall, though, moving indeed and deserving of the biggest audience for black literature since Roots.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988