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Shackling Water Paperback – April 8, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly


A talented African-American saxophonist moves from Boston to Harlem to study with the jazz master he idolizes in Mansbach's first novel, a passionate debut that succeeds despite an abundance of plot cliches. Latif Pearson, the young protagonist, gets hooked on the sounds of Albert Van Horn; after years of building his chops, 19-year-old Latif gets up the nerve to make the move to New York, where he spends his nights watching Van Horn play from the sidelines. The dark side of Latif's debut comes when he takes a job running drugs for the local dealer, but he is able to make it work as he adds a relationship to the mix, falling in love with a beautiful white painter named Mona. The ambitious, precocious Latif idolizes Van Horn, but when the older musician finally invites him to some private jam sessions and then onstage, Latif puts so much pressure on himself that he implodes and succumbs to the lures of heroin. Mansbach gets past the hoary plot cliches with some strong characterizations, although his prose waxes purple when he writes about the music and Latif's street life: `The horn dipped and bobbed above the amniotic ocean... vanishing inside the grave of Icarus only to reanimate ichthyoid." Setting aside these flaws, both hardcore and would-be jazz fans will find plenty of meat on the bones of Mansbach's debut; with a more innovative plot, it might have been a truly memorable book. Agent, Richard R. Abate.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

This might be the best fictional work about jazz since James Baldwin's beautiful and soulful Sonny's Blues. A Knstlerroman (artist's novel), this first novel tells the story of Latif James-Pearson, an aspiring yet often self-doubting young African American, as he moves from Boston to New York to become a professional jazz saxophonist. The first third of the book is a verbal feast, as Mansbach's fiercely textured prose powerfully conveys the New York jazz scene of the 1990s and superbly echoes the rich cadence and rhythm of a fantastic jazz riff. While the novel loses some of its narrative momentum in the middle and latter stages of the story the main character's seemingly inevitable bout with narcotics is forced and probably unnecessary it nevertheless presents an often searingly moving and dense account of what motivates a young, talented jazz musician. Mansbach, who received his M.F.A. from Columbia University and performs with jazz and hip-hop musicians as a spoken-word artist, is definitely a writer to watch. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Roger A. Berger, Everett Community Coll., WA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (April 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400031591
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400031597
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,353,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Mansbach's new novel, Rage is Back (Viking) has been named an Amazon.com Best Book of the Month for January 2013, and a Barnes & Noble Best Book. The Washington Post says "Mansbach has clearly had a play date with Michael Chabon and Junot Diaz, and his fresh, witty novel is one that hip readers will relish," and adds that "There's no resisting [narrator] Dondi, 'a nerd with swagger,' as he riffs on everything from Madison Avenue to yuppies' racial anxiety ," and the San Francisco Chronicle writes that "Rage Is Back does for graffiti what Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay did for comic books. Dondi mashes up disparate linguistic registers with an effortlessness that brings to mind Junot Díaz's perennial narrator, Junior. The ideal interpreter for this journey, he is equally comfortable holding forth on the history of graffiti style, explaining the "tripartite drug economy" of Fort Greene or (like many a smart high school student), bringing it all back to Homer, Plato and The Great Gatsby. ...but beneath all the weed and spray paint, it's a warmhearted story about a son searching for his father and for himself, a trip through the past and present of an American art form that fits surprisingly well within the confines of the novel."

Mansbach's previous book, Go the F*ck to Sleep is a #1 New York Times bestseller, and one of the most talked-about books of the decade. A viral sensation that shot to #1 on Amazon.com months before the book was even available, it has been published in forty languages, and is forthcoming as a feature film from Fox 2000. Mansbach also wrote"Wake the F*ck Up," a pro-Obama video starring Samuel L. Jackson that has been described by many as the greatest political ad of all time. Released online on September 27, 2012, it received 5 million views in its first week.

Mansbach's 2008 novel, The End of the Jews, won the California Book Award and was long-listed for the IMPAC-Dublin Prize. His previous novel, Angry Black White Boy, or The Miscegenation of Macon Detornay, was a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2005; it is taught at more than eighty universities and has been adapted into a prize-winning stage play. He is also the author of the novel Shackling Water, the poetry collection genius b-boy cynics getting weeded in the garden of delights, the graphic novel Nature of the Beast (co-written with Douglas Mcgowan).

An inaugural recipient of the Ford Foundation's Future Aesthetics Artist Grant, Mansbach was also a 2012 Sundance Institute Screenwriting Lab fellow and the recipient of the Indian Paintbrush/Sundance Institute Feature Filmwriting Grant. The 2009-2011 New Voices Professor of Fiction at Rutgers University, he founded, edited and published the pioneering 1990s hip hop journal Elementary and spent several years traveling as a drum technician with the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. His fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, The Believer, and on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

Mansbach's His debut thriller, The Dead Run will be published in September 2013, by HarperCollins. A frequent lecturer on college campuses across the country, Mansbach lives in Berkeley, California, where he co-hosts the KPFA/Pacifica radio show "Father Figures."

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is jazz writing at its finest? Alive and kicking? If so, we need to kill it. Don't be bamboozled by the mostly silly, misleading "advance praise" on the back of this volume. Mansbach does not riff like Coltrane. He does not flow like B.I.G. In fact, Mansbach is just the kind of writer (or, more precisely, this is just the kind of book) we DON'T need. Shackling Water is a labored, spoken-wordy blend of pseudo-Baraka rhythms that boasts several failed attempts to emulate Paul Beatty's humor. The story itself is trite trite trite, a dull retelling of the old jazz-musician-addicted-to-heroin bit. Can we PLEASE get past this? Most of the characters are uninteresting (The protagonist is said jazz musician. Then there's the older white woman painter girlfriend of said jazz musician. The legendary jazz hero of said jazz musician. The cutely named but paper thin drug dealer. The homophobic piano player whose individual story seems to be a facile riff on Baldwin's classic "Sonny's Blues."), and one wonders if the author truly understands them. The book has an occasional pleasing sentence, but it is mannered beyond belief, the work of one who seems to be feverishly, desperately trying to write himself into a culture that he obviously has a lot of information about; but then again, facts do not constitute truth. Several scenes go beyond the bounds of believability. One post-coital scene finds the inter-racial lovers deconstructing race and the master-slave dialectic. Another ridiculous one has the protagonist playing his horn while the local dealer freestyles (wowing the white painter with a mention of Flannery O'Conner. Wow.). The protagonist and the local dealer (ingeniously named Spliff) also share a dull word or two about jazz and hip hop. Earnest? Forced? Long-winded? Yes.Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The story idea is good, but somehow the author got in his own way. He's a good writer, but he's doing too much to get his point across.
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Format: Hardcover
Adam Mansbach's debut is luminous, this boy can write! So interesting to see that we are finally exploring the connection between jazz and hip-hip, which one can argue, are truly the only pure "American" forms of music.
Mansbach tackles these subjects well, making both of these worlds truly come alive as we follow Latif on his journey into manhood and into the world of NYC.
I wholeheartedly recommend this first-timers work and wholeheartedly disagree with the dissenter below. The problems and the beauties of the jazz and hip-hop world can not be brought to light by one novel alone......those who put that responsibility on one writers shoulders will always be disappointed. One writers view will always be a narrow view and I appreciate that Mansbach has opened the door for further discourse.
Bottom line: buy it, read it and look forward to more from Mr. Mansbach.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This stunning debut novel is a rocket ride fueled by the rhythms of jazz and hip-hop. But you don't have to know Coltrane from "Night Train" or hip-hop from doo-wop to appreciate the author's lyrical and powerful prose. The blurbs on the book jacket compare Adam Mansbach to everyone from Walt Whitman to James Baldwin; I would add the name of Jack Kerouac. Yet there is none of Kerouac's rambling or sloppiness in this tightly told tale of a black saxophonist who comes to New York to face the talent of his idol, the love of a white woman, the temptation of heroin, and most of all, himself. If a metaphor occasionally misfires or a page or two seems overabundantly introspective, that detracts little from the impact of a story that is both worth telling and well told.
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Format: Hardcover
Mansbach has his finger on the pulse of so much here: jazz, hip hop, race, urban life. Laitf, the protagonist, is the kind of character who stays with you long after you finish reading. Even the minor characters are memorable, and the writing itself is beyond compare. Mansbach is really defining new territory here: this is writing that truly comes alive, that comments profoundly on the struggle of a young man in language all its own. I read this book in one sitting, without planning to.
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