Noire, a semiradical Amherst grad pursuing a doctorate at Columbia, has mixed feelings about academe and its privileges. And that’s on top of her struggle to find herself: Who is she and where is she going? And what should she do about all the double-degree brothas with $500 shoes and no social conscience who want her body but not her mind? Enter Innocent Pokou, a handsome, studly investment banker from the Côte d’Ivoire, who e-mails his beloved Maman regularly, makes a ton of money, and treats Noire like a lady. But she still isn’t sure she should commit to him—or any other man. Meanwhile, a rich social life keeps Noire busy: intellectual soirées, Harlem book parties, East Village poetry jams, etc., all providing opportunities to explore the ever more contemporary issues that interest Noire (not that she doesn’t find time for romantic evenings with Innocent). African-American perceptions of class and color are touched upon repeatedly, as exemplified by Noire’s New Orleans cousins, who drew troubling lines between one shade of brown and the next (the lighter the better, and black not admired). Noire still wears her hair in a nappy ’fro, seeing political ramifications in the ever-changing requirements of black fashion as well. Innocent’s strong ties to his homeland bring back memories of her student trips to Africa, which opened her eyes to the diversity of black identity and taught her a thing or two about the limits of her American upbringing. If only she could speak so many languages! And move so readily between different cultures! Like Cudjoe, her half-Jamaican, half-Ghanian lover who spoke so movingly of the centuries of black history and his ancestors’ struggle to endure despite slavery. Noire and Cudjoe were together years ago, but she remembers every word. When Innocent and Noire travel to Jamaica, the two men meet—triggering many more ruminations from Noire on the Meaning of Life.
Earnest debut, long on consciousness-raising, short on plot.