TWO CITIES by John Edgar Wideman
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A somber, eloquent meditation on isolation and violence. Wideman (The Cattle Killing, 1990, etc.) sets this tightly focused novel largely in Homewood, the black neighborhood in Pittsburgh that he’s depicted—and memorialized—many times before. The second city referred to in the title is Philadelphia, seen in flashback, in scenes illuminated by the light of the neighborhood inadvertently burned down by the police during their confrontation with the black separatist group MOVE. The three narrators here have all been profoundly scarred by violence: Kassima, still a young woman, has lost her husband to AIDS, and her two adolescent sons to gang-related violence (an ongoing war between the “Red” and “Blue”); Robert Jones, the 50-year-old man whom Kassima takes home in an attempt to dissolve her intense isolation, has had most of his hopes undone by racism; and Mr. Mallory, Kassima’s aged tenant, has been driven to the point of desperation by the violence he has witnessed, beginning when he and some fellow black soldiers were ambushed by white soldiers while serving in Italy in WWII. Mallory, who had lived in Philadelphia, recalls repeatedly his friendship with John Africa, the doomed founder of MOVE. While Kassima and Robert begin a wary courtship, described in first-person narratives of great, idiosyncratic vigor (few novelists capture the tang and rhythm and aggressive force of the spoken word as well as Wideman), Mr. Mallory spends his time wandering Homewood’s streets, hoping to catch the reality of its sufferings with his camera, or writing letters to the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, whom he reveres. The letters allow Wideman to speculate on the ways in which art can explore (and perhaps partly remedy) alienation and despair. The climax occurs at Mr. Mallory’s funeral, interrupted by the “Blues,” which spurs an aroused Kassima to confront the violence that has destroyed her family and to make public her tenant’s disturbing photos. An angry, moving work from one of the most original, and accomplished, of modern American novelists.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1998
ISBN: 0-395-85730-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1998


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