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Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes Hardcover – September 29, 2011

3.6 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"His most musical work of fiction: a polyrhythmic contemplation of time and its effects on passion set in three different eras . . . this is not a book a young man would or could write. There is the sense here of somebody who has seen and considered much, without letting his inner fire cool . . . the ambition and the ability to pull wildly diverse worlds together in a single story is rare. Kennedy, master of the Irish-American lament in works like Billy Phelan's Greatest Game and Ironweed, proves here he can play with both hands and improvise on a theme without losing the beat." — John Sayles, The New York Times Book Review (front page)

"Written with such brio and encompassing humanity that it may well deserve to be called the best of the bunch . . . In Mr. Kennedy's Albany, as in William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, the past is never past. Changó's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is invigorated by this same blending of new and old, of progress and recurrence . . . there's more shot and incidence in Changó than in any novel of Mr. Kennedy's since Legs . . . the style here has the sleekness and strength of good crime noir." — Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

"Vivid and charming . . . Kennedy, now in his 80s, is in the embrace of nostalgia as he looks back on the adventures of his youth, and this gives the novel much of its not inconsiderable appeal . . . He is a fluid, engaging prose stylist, and frequently a witty one . . . Kennedy has maintained a high level of achievement throughout [his Albany Cycle], deftly blending comedy and drama as, over the years, he has painted a portrait of a single city perhaps unique in American fiction." — Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

"Kennedy's humor is sly and wonderful . . . there's an almost deliriously rich cast of lowlifes here: gun runners, politicians on the make, street- corner agitators, prostitutes, winos . . . Kennedy's] description of Hemingway . . . is well-nigh perfect." — Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe

About the Author

William Kennedy, author, screenwriter and playwright, was born and raised in Albany, New York. Kennedy brought his native city to literary life in many of his works. The Albany cycle, includes Legs, Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, and the Pulitzer Prize winning Ironweed.The versatile Kennedy wrote the screenplay for Ironweed, the play Grand View, and cowrote the screenplay for the The Cotton Club with Francis Ford Coppola. Kennedy also wrote the nonfiction O Albany! and Riding the Yellow Trolley Car. Some of the other works he is known for include Roscoe and Very Old Bones.

Kennedy is a professor in the English department at the State University of New York at Albany. He is the founding director of the New York State Writers Institute and, in 1993, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has received numerous literary awards, including the Literary Lions Award from the New York Public Library, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Governor’s Arts Award. Kennedy was also named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France and a member of the board of directors of the New York State Council for the Humanities.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (September 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022977
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,290,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What a pleasure to finally have another book by William Kennedy! His legion of fans expect his books to be set in Albany, New York. This new one opens in Albany in 1936 as Kennedy sets the scene with Bing Crosby singing "Shine" and a young boy listening.

20 years later that young boy is in Cuba. Quinn is a journalist and he hopes to interview the rebel leader Fidel Castro. He meets a woman and he is instantly smitten. Mix in the Santeria religion, Ernest Hemingway in decline, the repressive Batista regime, and a reporter who is looking for a scoop while indulging in all the intrigue. There's a gangster, gunrunners, daring journalists, and of course, Fidel. The book really starts cooking.

Then we move back to Albany. The year is 1968. Bobby Kennedy has just been shot. Quinn, the reporter, is trying to write a story about the racial unrest in the city. The Albany political machine is in high gear. And we find out what happened to most of the characters we met in previous scenes.

Kennedy has written another timeless work of literature here.
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William Kennedy, at age 83, continues his saga of Albany, New York. Perhaps the only localized setting in American fiction comparable in its richness to Kennedy's Albany is Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. Indeed, Kennedy's Albany novels are as generationally intertwined and mythically developed as are Faulkner's. Though perhaps not as "literary" as Faulkner, Kennedy is more accessible.

The central figure of CHANGO'S BEADS AND TWO-TONE SHOES is Daniel Quinn, who was introduced as Billy Phelan's ten-year-old nephew way back in Kennedy's second Albany novel, "Billy Phelan's Greatest Game". Numerous other characters from the earlier Albany novels make encore appearances, and there are many engaging new characters as well, including a curious trio of historical figures - Bing Crosby, Ernest Hemingway, and Fidel Castro. Though Daniel Quinn is clearly the protagonist (and, incidentally, in some respects the fictional persona of author William Kennedy), his elderly father George comes close to stealing the show.

The novel consists of three slices of Daniel Quinn's life. The first (consisting of only six pages) occurs in Albany in October 1936, when Quinn is eight. The second occurs in Havana in March 1957, where Quinn has gone as a reporter in search of a story and where he encounters the woman who will become his wife, the passion and bloodshed of revolution, and the mysteries of Santeria (as well as the Chango's beads of the novel's title). The last and largest slice (over 200 pages) is back in Albany on June 5, 1968, the day of vigil after Robert F. Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles and a day of racial unrest throughout the country, including Albany. Quinn becomes embroiled in the turmoil both as a newspaper reporter and in his personal life.
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Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is a snappy, intoxicating confluence of music, dance and mysticism; of civil rights, politics and revolution; of activism, commitment and service; of love, compassion and redemption...a polyphonic prose fusion of syncopation and harmonics blended with a spirited ensemble of characters giving voice to the full range of human emotions.

The story traces a "cosmos in motion"... "moving relentlessly in an arc of justice," wearing Chango's beads of power and protection and a pair of two-tone shoes, dancing and undulating to the pulsating rhythms of the constant background music... to the blue notes of jazz.

The story belongs to journalist Daniel Quinn and begins in August 1936, during his childhood in Albany, New York, when one night while out and about the town with his father George, the young eight year-old meets the great crooner Bing Crosby and experiences an unforgettable night of jazz piano and song that will reverberate in his soul for the rest of his life. The tempo is thus set and puts into motion a life's odyssey for Daniel. Inspired by his iconic journalist grandfather, the senior Daniel Quinn, young Quinn embarks on an adventurous career of news journalism and fiction writing.

The story then jumps in time to March, 1957 and the El Floridita bar in Havana, Cuba, where Quinn is delivered into the realm of Papa Hemingway, the great legendary writer in whose literary footsteps Quinn hopes to follow. At the same time as meeting Hemingway, Quinn also falls into the orbit of an enchanting woman destined to become his wife, the beautiful, fiery Renata, around whom the rest of Quinn's life will perpetually revolve.
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10 Comments 8 of 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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I know I will be in a minority with this review -- so it goes.

I was a *huge* fan of the Albany trilogy. I thought Ironweed and Billy Phelan's Greatest Game were masterpieces. So I grabbed "Chango" with enthusiasm.

And I quit halfway through -- which is *highly* unusual, as I'm generally a "to the bitter end" reader.

Yes, it's lyrical, and yes, in places it's magical. But to me, the triple-interlocking of the dozen or so characters, across decades and distant geography, seemed forced and muddled.

Each of these characters' lives seemed implausibly interconnected -- everybody knows everybody else and has known everybody else for decades, no matter their back-stories or origins. Their lives keep crossing paths and doubling back to cross paths again in ways that are pure artifice.

The story as a whole began to look, to me, like a Scrabble board. That's OK if you like Scrabble -- which I do -- but in the real world people do not speak in Scrabble-board sentences. Nor do they live their lives that way.

Sorry, but to this reader the overall narrative simply did not ring the plausibility bell. I felt like I was being tour-guided through hall of mirrors.
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