CITY OF LIGHT by Cyrus Colter


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 An overheated Shakespearian tragedy about a black man who leaves the US for France to pursue the radical dream of a black homeland--from the author of, most recently, The Amoralists and A Chocolate Soldier (both 1988). Paul Kessay, now 29, grew up in Chicago and went to Princeton before deciding to leave his dominatrix of a mother, Saturn Marie or ``Queen Saturn'' (``Sometimes [Paul writes] I feel you crippled me, my existence, without meaning to''), and head for Paris, where he starts up The Coterie--a radical fringe group that seeks a homeland for wandering and disaffected blacks. Amid lots of ideological chatter and a bevy of quaint characters--most notably Cecile, with whom Paul has an affair, and Quo Vadis, ``this incredible, huge, black humanist''--Paul tries ``to end the drift to which the organization had already fallen prey.'' Instead, he drinks himself sick, has hallucinations of Jeannette, his long-ago first love, and eventually finds everything falling apart. What had seemed to be paranoia about racism proves to have been reasonable fear: Quo Vadis is found dead; Cecile is ambushed and killed; and Paul, injured in the attack on Cecile, also finally dies, ``almost euphoric as he slept'' in his hospital bed. Much densely poetic prose, but Colter also has a gift for rendering a time and place, in this instance France, in vivid detail. The blood bath at the end feels a bit overdone, but the characters are so haunted and traumatized that perhaps only such violence is appropriate. This one reads like a cross between the haunted feverish prose of James Baldwin and the lyricism of a William Styron.

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1993
ISBN: 1-56025-059-3
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993