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Pushkin and the Queen of Spades: A Novel Hardcover – May 4, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The unacknowledged boom in African-American fiction continues with Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, a second novel from Alice Randall, author of the nearly banned Gone with the Wind parody, The Wind Done Gone. Windsor Armstrong is a Harvard-educated professor of Russian literature whose son, Pushkin--named after the great Afro-Russian poet--defied all her hopes for him by becoming a star football player. Any other mother would be proud, Windsor reflects. But she had wanted her son to transcend the narrow roles allotted to him as a black man in America. She had wanted more for Pushkin--a place in black bohemia, a place carved out by the writings of Dubois and others. And now, he rejects her again by choosing a Russian lap dancer as his wife.

Windsor's musings--by turns angry, conflicted, wistful, and eccentric--are among the most penetrating comments on race and mother love in contemporary fiction. She recalls her Motown childhood; her cruel, self-hating mother's climb through white society in Washington, D.C.; and the refuge she found at Harvard, slowly uncovering the roots of her racism and her shock and sadness that Pushkin has fallen in love with a woman who does not look like her. And what does Pushkin want from Windsor? Only the truth about who his father is.

Though the novel is a little longer than it needs to be, readers who stay with Randall through the switchbacks and cul-de-sacs of her narrative will be rewarded with stylistic fireworks and an unparalleled examination of black racism. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

Randall made a big splash (and got into legal hot water) with her first novel, The Wind Done Gone, a parody of Margaret Mitchell's classic Civil War saga. Her second is nearly as provocative, chronicling the tribulations of an African-American professor of Russian literature whose pro football player son plans to marry a Russian lap dancer. Windsor Armstrong was raped by her mother's white boss just before she went off to Harvard. She named the child she had Pushkin X, went on to get her degree and raised her son almost singlehandedly. Twenty-five years later, she is a tenured professor, trying to adjust to the idea that Pushkin might marry a white stripper called Tanya. Windsor retraces her difficult history to find out how things ended up this way, reminiscing about her Detroit childhood, her glamorous gangster father and her self-centered mother, who took her away from her father and moved to Washington, D.C., and a more privileged life. The novel begins brilliantly, in high satiric mode, with intelligent, unpredictable riffs on Motown vs. D.C., rape and racism, and the difficulty of being a good parent. Windsor's touchstone is the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who was the great-grandson of an African slave presented to Peter the Great, and her interest in his complicated history is just one instance of Randall's clever, tables-turning musing on black identity. Windsor's self-questioning can be frustratingly circular, but even when her rhetoric runs away with her, her restless search for answers is stimulating. Fittingly, the novel ends with a rap version of Pushkin's unfinished novella "The Negro of Peter the Great," a conciliatory wedding gift Windsor has prepared for her son and his fiancee. With this heady tale, Randall proves decisively that she is more than a parodist.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (May 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618433600
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618433605
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,267,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Randall's latest novel, "Pushkin and the Queen of Spades" covers a lot of territory. On one level, it's the story of a mother's love for her son and her attempt to protect him from a truth that she feels may crush him. Windsor and Pushkin X - mother and son - are the focal characters in the novel. When Windsor learns of her son's plans to marry a Russian lap dancer, she is forced to reckon with aspects of her past that she has tried desperately to forget. Not only must she find a way to accept her future white daughter-in-law, but she must also find a way to tell her son who his father is. Within this story line, the author demonstrates the current and historical complexities of black/white racial relationships.
On another level, the story examines class and culture conflicts within the African American community. Windsor comes from a family with "all of the vices except those that are unforgivable and none of the virtues except those that are absolutely necessary". It is within this context that Randall explores the difficulties that Windsor has with integrating all facets of her life after a legitimate shift in class and cultural status. ". . . Negroes who survive to thrive exhibit highly original adaptations to life", Windsor tells Pushkin X; and she adapts by compartmentalizing her life in an effort to keep the criminal and abusive aspects of her family background from bleeding into the highly intellectual and academic life she now has as a Russian studies professor at Vanderbilt University. Is it possible to jettison what was then for what is now? Is it necessary? I found this aspect of the novel comparable in many ways to my life experience and the author captures the character's psychological conflicts with apt clarity and clinical insight.
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Format: Hardcover
In Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, Alice Randall mixes a spicy gumbo of Russian literature, Motown, and hip-hop that glides across the palate of the mind to rave culinary reviews. It's funky, hip, and sexy, yet sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and righteously poetic. When a Harvard-educated professor's football superstar son decides to marry a Russian lap dancer, her life becomes a retrospective of "where did I go wrong as a single black mother?" Windsor Armstrong thought she had raised her son, Pushkin X, to be a perfect reflection of herself: educated, erudite, and worldly, and sees his taste for the common as a direct rejection of everything she has ingrained in him, including her place in his life. Rather than retreat and wait for him to come to his senses, she writes a hip-hop elegy of epic proportions as a wedding gift in hopes of culling his forgiveness while desperately trying to respect his choices.
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Format: Paperback
Much has changed since Alice Randall published Pushkin and the Ace of Spades in May of 2005. February 10, 2007, Barack Obama declared his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. Not much short of two years later, I stood in 23 degree weather on the Capitol Mall listening to him deliver an inaugural address, and as I wrote this, the first African-American president of the U.S. received the Nobel Peace Prize. Regardless of progress that has been made, and regardless of how much is left undone: Randall's book is timeless, and if total sales are a measure, vastly underrated.

The story is told through the eyes and the heart of an African-American Harvard educated woman, Windsor. With a PhD in Russian literature, and tenure at Vanderbilt, the wedding of Windsor's only child, NFL football phenom Pushkin, to a white Russian lap dancer is rapidly approaching. In 288 pages, a lush and potent story of maternal love, race, and family plays out.

Alice Randall is an author, an award winning country music song writer, and a cook (see some of her recipes on her website). No wonder then, that her book is rich in language, melodic and cadenced in its rhythm, and richly flavored. So many times, contemporary authors seem to feel that unless they pin the reader's ears back, or even flay the flesh from their bones, the point won't get across. Pushkin and the Ace of Spades takes a different approach. Though Randall can loft the F-bomb with all the aplomb than her son and gridiron star Pushkin can loft a football, and though she does not shy away from rape or graphic sex, her use of language and her description of sexuality are never gratuitous.
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Format: Paperback
"...And my parents did not give me a Russian name, for, other than a few dedicated Communists in the thirties and forties, what black parents ever did?"

That comment, posed by a fictional character in another novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park,is answered here by Alice Randall in the persona of this story's most significant presence, Windsor Armstrong, a Harvard-educated professor of Russian Literature at Vanderbilt University. We meet Windsor as she is about to commence an epoch of self-reflection and introspection brought on by the impending marriage of her son Pushkin to a Russian- born, blond-haired stripper with, as the story unfolds, the ironic name of Tanya.

Over a plate of grilled cheese and French fries in a seedy country western bar, over the next 200 pages or so, the reader is a rapt observer to intellectual self-vivisection as the professor examines exactly why she has arrived at this point of estrangement from her son, brought on by her palpable disenchantment with her son's choice of spouse as well as prior decisions (college choice, career) that failed to correlate to her aspirations for him, never mind the fact he has far exceeded the dreams most parents would ever entertain for their children. Circumstances are further complicated by the secret of Pushkin's parentage as Windsor has historically deflected, or just ignored any and all entreaties from her son regarding the name of his birth father.
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