Claude McKay - Banjo (3 stars)

Claude McKay - Banjo

(Serpent’s Tail)


‘A story without a plot’ is not the most promising strapline for a novel you’ll ever come across, but there’s enough character, spice and joie de vivre in this deceptively intelligent meander to pull the reader through. Serpent’s Tail are one of many publishers re-issuing ‘forgotten classics’ and this gem from 1929 is important enough to warrant a new lease of life. Set in the seething ethnic melting pot of 1920s Marseilles, it follows the exploits of Banjo, a panhandling drifter dreaming of setting up a band. Banjo is living from day to day when he meets Ray, a slumming writer, after which his attitudes change and the awakening of his black consciousness begins.

Banjo deals with race, politics and African identity but never in a heavy-handed way, Claude McKay cleverly using the interactions between the multinational underclass of the port to expound a multitude of views and attitudes. Fascinating stuff.

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