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on 13 November 2002
Despite his considerable output of poetry, short stories and autobiographical work, this is Langston Hughes' only novel. It is the tremendously crafted story of Sandy, a black child of the 1920s in rural Kansas. In poignant tightly written chapters, Hughes' depicts various events in Sandy's life often slipping into the perspective of those closest to him. Sandy lives most his life with his strong-willed and deeply religious grandmother Aunt Hager. She is a benevolent woman who desires peaceful racial relations despite the overwhelming amount of racism and discrimination professed by both white and black community members. Sandy's mother Annjee is a loving and hard working woman eternally devoted to her husband Jimboy who is a good hearted man constantly on the move. Sandy's aunt Tempy is a well-off woman trying to immerse herself in white society and denigrating her own race in the process. His other aunt Harriett is a wilful woman who turns from the church for a different kind of existence. Through these expertly drawn characters, Sandy views their examples and he must make the choices that will effect his future. The novel is a tremendous chronicle of the struggle of a family to survive financially. It gives accounts of the psychological dilemma created by growing in a racially divided society and the diffuse joy in life that can be found even in troubling circumstances.
Maya Angelou wrote of Not Without Laughter: "This book was written when preachers had to be poets and poets were preachers, because they needed to be available to all the people all the time." The messages this novel gives are not subtle. But, through its varied perspectives and eloquently written prose, it envelops the issues it preaches with emotionally edifying ideas. It leaves the reader with a feeling of deep connection to all the characters, particularly the beautiful Sandy in whom we invest our hope and trust to fulfil his potential to become a good, intelligent and strong man who does not feel limited by his racial heritage despite any restrictions society may attempt to place for him. Although it may be a shame that Hughes never wrote another novel as he aptly demonstrated his skill in this one, Not Without Laughter stands as shining work be a skilled artist.
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on 4 November 2002
Langston Hughes is, of course, best known as a poet. His poetry has brought him international acclaim with its strong sense of empathy with humanity. He deals in universal themes, writing in clear language, and using ideas and concepts familiar to almost everyone. A genuine 20th centuary Wordsworth.
"Not Without Laughter" is the only novel by the author. Written in 1930 it tells the story of a young black child called Sandy born into poverty in a small Kansas town. Worlds collide, the older members of the close knit community represented in the first half of the book still remember the time of slavery, whilst the younger members struggle to find their place in a society free from slavery but shackled by poverty. Throughout the novel Sandy struggles to find a way of escaping poverty and dead end, repetative jobs, without turning his back on his race, and without losing his sense of identity.
It is capitalism that brought his race to America, and capitalism that kept his race in servitude long after the abolition of slavery. Yet it is capitalism that Sandy must embrace if he is to rise from poverty and gain the respect that his obvious intelligence deserves. How does Sandy do this without becoming cruel in the image of the economic system that he and his forebears have suffered at?
Omnipresent in this melee of big serious questions is Hughes' trademark empathy with people. It is a novel full of life, with music, religion, alcohol, sex, fighting and, of course, always in the background is laughter. There seems to be a suggestion that life is at its most colourful and vivacious when it is hard. The characters, although architypes, often used as pegs upon which to hang a particular point of view, are never the less made to seem alive by the author and they live fondly in the memory long after the book has been read.
As you would expect from a poet there is a real rhythm in the language of the book, and many powerful, sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing images. Each chapter seems closed off like a narrative poem in itself. The one critisism I would make of the novel is that it seems to speed up chronologically in the second half of the book in a way that is not in tune with the first. Sandy's world as a boy is lavishly created through a number of strong characters and brilliant set pieces that make up the early chapters, but then it is almost as if the author tires of the writing process, the density of incident becomes more sparse and the years seem to roll by too quickly. Indeed it is said that Hughes wrote the novel in two flurries of activity, the second it seems was with the express purpose of getting it finished.
What is most refreshing about this book is that whilst the subject matter would seem to justify it being a novel all about hate and recrimination, it is in fact love and and hope that is the prevalent feeling of the book. This shows a magnanimity of spirit, the willingness to give up what is rightfully yours in preference to a higher ideal. As Maya Angelou writes in the introduction of this edition, "Acutely timely and painfully urgent...this reprint has come on time."
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on 9 July 1998
Langston Hughes is a truly gifted writer. In this story he shows six different characters, all afflicted by racism and the numerous tactics each devises to combat its force. Their methods include,hating white america, enduring the blow, assimilating, laughing in the faces and then there is Sandy...He is slowing coming of age amidst all of these adults that he loves and admires, but soon he shall have to pick a path of his own. He knows that he must fight against the threat of racisim with out developing so much anger it consumes him as well. He knows must stand up for the race and culture he loves and some how advance his people with the power of his life. This story, is one of the best depictions of a black family that I have come across and can relate to. I miss Langston, and I love his legacy.
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on 10 March 2015
I really loved this book, and seriously didn't want it to end, Langston Hughes draws you in the life of Sandy and his family, which is a tale many black families can relate to, even now. I love all the characters in the book and how they are described. My favourite has the be Grandma Hagar who is like so many Grandmas who wants the best for her grandson. This book shows that even with all the pain black people have gone through we still survive, strive and do it with laughter.
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on 15 October 2013
Loved this book. Historical and informative. Funny and poignant. Noe seeking out all books by Mr Hughes and researching the many references to his artistic contemporaries. Highly recommend.
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on 3 December 2015
I'm not here to provide a synopsis - I just want to say that if you haven't read anything by Langston Hughes, this is a good place to start.
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on 31 January 2016
An enjoyable read so far. This book is very descriptive of the period in time and its characters. It is funny yet realistic.
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on 17 February 2016
Felt it ended abruptly, good read though!
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on 18 September 2016
Happy with the book. Quick delivery.
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on 6 September 2015
A riveting read. Keeps you hooked
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