This is a difficult book to categorise; it is realist in tone and language but the plot twists into the realm of fantasy towards the end, obliging the reader to accept a rather contrived and somewhat gimmicky device to round the story off. I`m not convinced that every reader would accept this sudden shock, which is more at home within Hollywood scripting than quality literature, but that is for the reader to decide.
That caveat aside, this is an absorbing and thought provoking novel which will stay with you long after you have read it; as a good piece of literary art, it raises far more questions about the issues it deals with than it answers; the cynicism of corporate America which the narrator rejects, the self-serving nature of politicians, the process of change within an urban community - these are universal issues which any city-dweller can identify with - it could be anywhere in the world, but to his credit Herz makes Harlem something iconic in the mind of the reader. It did for me, anyway, and I will be thinking of them for some time to come.
As an incomer, the un-named hero has a fixed perception of the community he joins, little realising that the events he triggers by his well-meaning actions jeopardises and ultimately kills the things he loves. As a tale of one individual setting out to change his own life by bettering his surroundings and by gaining the acceptance of the people around him, Herz presents us with a collage of characters, some with a brief and often poignant story to add to the overall picture - an interesting and enriching concept within the narrative. This hero makes mistakes, has small victories, is taken in by the promise of real change and has to compromise - he is, in the end, only human which I think, resonates all the more with the reader.
This is a book I would certainly recommend despite my opening reservations; it is thoughtful, insightful, quite moving and impressive as a first novel. Reading it won`t hurt you.