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Home To Harlem (Northeastern Library of Black Literature) Paperback – November 30, 1987

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Editorial Reviews Review

An enlightening trip through Harlem--from its colorful street life and its incomparable jazz venues to its back rooms, where drinking, drugging, gambling, and women helped some take a load off. Jake Brown is a lover of life and takes in all that Harlem has to offer like a long, cool drink. Though he's subjected to the same oppression as those around him, he chooses to rise above it and delight in the blessings he does have. Ray, on the other hand has been defeated one too many times, and despite, or perhaps because of, having a formal education, he is bent on revolt. First published in 1928, this was Claude McKay's first novel.


First novel by Claude Mckay, published in 1928. In it and its sequel, Banjo, McKay attempted to capture the vitality of the black vagabonds of urban America and Europe. Jake Brown, the protagonist of Home to Harlem, deserts the U.S. Army during World War I and lives in London until a race riot inspires him to return to Harlem. On his first night home he meets the prostitute Felice, for whom he spends much of the rest of the novel searching. Amid his adventures in Harlem, a gallery of rough, lusty, heavy-drinking characters appear to vivid effect. While working as a dining-car waiter Jake encounters another point of view in Ray, a pessimistic, college-educated Haitian immigrant who advocates behavior based on racial pride. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

Mr. McKay's book assails the optical, the olfactory, the kinesthetic antennae whereby the human being takes in the world about him. In less stilted phrases, you can see, smell and feel what he writes. -- The New York Times Book Review, John R. Chamberlain

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Product Details

  • Series: Northeastern Library of Black Literature
  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Northeastern University Press; New edition edition (November 30, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555530249
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555530242
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #266,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
In terms of plot and character development, this work is average- perhaps even below average. However, McKay does suceed in creating beautiful imagerary through his prose; especially in terms of the physical descriptions he provides of African Americans and the city of Harlem. Besides language, another reason to consider reading this work is because of its historical role in the Harlem Renaissance. The release of this book caused a great deal of controversy- much of which centered around the manner in which McKay portrayed African Americans. If you do decide to read this book, it is a quick and easy read. The typing and margins are pretty large and the chapters are relatively short.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By N. Joli on February 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
Written in 1928, Claude McKay's novel, Home to Harlem was created as an answer to its white counterpart, Ni***r Harlem (not to offend, but it's the real title of the book), written by Carl Van Vechten. Both books feature the booze, drugs, sex and prostitution of the Roaring 20s, especially the clubs and cabarets (among other places) set in Harlem (and McKay includes Clinton Hill, Brooklyn).

In this book, Claude McKay attempts to show the underground and working class life of African Americans in Harlem during the 1920s. And he does so in a brutally honest manner. The novel centers around two black men, Jake, an ex-soldier and working stiff, and Ray, a college man turned working stiff from the Caribbean. Through these characters and other minor characters, McKay shows us life in Harlem for the working class and working rebels (aka criminals) during this time.

Condemned for its blatant focus on sex, drugs, alcohol (this was the Prohibition Era) and prostitution by the elite of Harlem's Renaissance (W.E.B. DuBois included), McKay and others like him was a rebel for this period. And thankfully so!

While the book contains language and literary tools and functions that would seem stilted and perhaps archaic, by today's standards, it is nonetheless a classic.

A word of warning, however: McKay's descriptions of persons of color rely heavily on what modern people would consider very, very color-struck. If you can overlook this, it is a wonderful examination of life in the underground decadent culture of Harlem's Jazz Age.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By leslie o bolden on April 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
After reading an issue of Black Issues Book Review, I decided to give this book a try. It is a great story and perfectly relays all the nuances and moods that are New York. The main character meets a prostitute named Felice his first night in Harlem and his quest for her begins there. Try this one out; you will enjoy
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