BLUES CITY by Ishmael Reed


A Walk in Oakland
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Lackluster potpourri of urban history, walking tour, and cultural events from novelist and polemicist Reed (Another Day at the Front, 2003, etc.).

The city in question is Oakland, California, the author’s adopted hometown. In 1967, Reed moved from New York to L.A., gradually making his way to the Bay Area. A faculty member at Berkeley and a long-time Oakland resident, he weaves the city’s contemporary politics (he isn’t fond of current mayor Jerry Brown) with the story of its troubled founding just over 150 years ago. (The Peralta family lands, which included much of present-day Oakland, Berkeley, and surrounding areas, were taken over by US squatters whose sovereignty superseded Mexican land claims.) This works less well when the author turns to cultural events and walking tours. Describing a powwow at Oakland Technical High School, he writes, “As far as I could tell, the eagle dance involved much jerking of the head and twirling about.” On walking tours, Reed tends to simply transcribe the tour leaders’ remarks, a decision that works when the lecturer is eloquent, but leads to repetition otherwise. The Black Panther Legacy Tour would have benefited from a brief summary of the movement’s influence on and intriguing history with the city. Instead, we get a rambling (if heartfelt) monologue by founding member David Hilliard. All walks here lead back to Jerry Brown. Of the Black Cowboy parade, Reed writes, “The most polished marchers were those from the Oakland Military Academy, a pet project of the Mayor.” At a blues festival at Jack London Square, “I was standing near a fence . . . when Jerry Brown showed up. Nobody noticed him.” The news isn’t all bad, however. The author visits the Paramount, an art deco movie palace; Lake Merritt, the largest saltwater lake in the US; and the Camron-Stanford house, one of the last remaining mansions to grace Lake Merritt’s shores.

Oakland awaits a better tribute.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 2003
ISBN: 1-4000-4540-1
Page count: 160pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2003


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