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If He Hollers Let Him Go: A Novel (Himes, Chester) Paperback – September 3, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the decades just prior to the eruption of the American civil rights movement in the late '50s, Chester Himes was one of the most significant African American authors--although today he is less well known than several of his contemporaries. He wrote numerous novels, short stories, essays, and a powerful, searing autobiography, and he did so with an economy of language, a graceful eloquence, and a painful yet unflinching directness.

If He Hollers Let Him Go places Himes in the pantheon of 20th-century novelists. It is an intense and muscular story, with an assembly of characters drawn from virtually every social and economic class present in Southern California in the '40s. The novel takes place over four days in the life of Bob Jones, the only black foreman in a shipyard during World War II. Jones lives in a society literally drenched in race consciousness--every conversation in a bar, every personal relationship, every instruction given on a job site, every casual glance on a sidewalk, every interaction of any kind, no matter how trivial, is imbued with a painful and dangerous meaning. A slight mistake, an unwitting rebellion, an unintentional expression of rage or desire can spell disaster for a black man--a beating over a game of craps, or an arrest, or termination from a job, or an accusation of rape. Jones awakes each day in fear, and lives steeped in fear:

It came along with consciousness. It came into my head first, somewhere back of my closed eyes, moved slowly underneath my skull to the base of my brain, cold and hollow. It seeped down my spine, into my arms, spread through my groin with an almost sexual torture, settled in my stomach like butterfly wings. For a moment I felt torn all loose inside, shriveled, paralyzed, as if after awhile I'd have to get up and die.
For Jones, there is no escape from the constant drumbeat of race and racism. It invades his dreams, his tiniest aspirations, and his deepest passions. Every attempt to retaliate or defend himself leads only to further trouble, loss, or humiliation. He can never forget who he is or what he is prevented from being. At the same time, he comes across as an actor, a subject, a doer, and not as a hapless, helpless victim. For all that he is confronted with, he never stops planning and acting and moving, and in the end, he survives, though his escape is incomplete and bittersweet.

The very idea that Jones can escape, however, marks a revolution in American literature. Thwarted at nearly every turn, he is nonetheless a powerful, intelligent, complicated agent of his own destiny. This 1945 novel is a compelling read, and Chester Himes deserves to be remembered for far more than Cotton Comes to Harlem and the raft of hard-bitten detective novels with which he made his living. --Andrew Himes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Campus Circle, 10/10/13
“Devastating.”
NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE

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Product Details

  • Series: Himes, Chester
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Reprint edition (September 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560254459
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560254454
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a great novel of this country and its life, and of African American literature. What it does is take its hero and make him the center of so much evil and so much force, that a fault line is exposed through the rotten heart of American society, particularly as it was during the Second World War when the story is written.

Jones starts out as a fairly "OK" figure, a Black worker who has succeeded in a war time shipyard playing the game square with possessions and an upwardly mobile future and deferment from the War as an essential war worker. Then every force gets set after him, a trashy white woman coworker who flirts and cries rape, the union bureaucrats who are supposed to be defending his rights as a worker but will do anything to keep peace for the war (a depiction in this and other novels that got Himes's the blackball by Communist party supporters in the literary world), of course, the police, the Black middle class represented by his girl friend, and his own fear and self doubt. He seems to be colliding with the whole world unified around "the war effort" and peace at home.

As such, the novel can grip the reader, not just due to its social or historical impact, but because it does the real ideal work of a novel, one character, seeming an average person, set against big forces, struggling for life. It does that well. I will not say any more lest I spoil the experience of this novel for those who need to read it.

Himes has good grit and good realism.
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Format: Paperback
Himes writes in the style of Charles Bukowsky, but in 1946, telling the story of a black man living in South Central LA and working in the WWII shipyard industry, confronting racist bosses and a white southern borderline-personality seductress/accuser. I had to put this book down a couple times because I was emotionally drained: the rage is sustained and precariously balanced. Walter Mosley must have read this one for background for his Easy Rawlins mysteries, but Himes is far from easy. Himes does not deserve his obscurity
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Format: Paperback
Chester Himes's first novel is a vivid portrait of black rage in Los Angeles during World War II, when blacks were able to get shipyard jobs, but had to work with (or for) southern whites who expected deference from those they considered their inferiors (indeed, regarded as subhuman). Himes crammed a lot into 203 pages. I find Bob Jones's dreams and his dialogue with Alice not just didactic, but forced, and the sexual politics is at some points difficult to believe. In contrast, the fury and terror of indignities at work, with the LAPD, with duplicitous white coworkers, union and company officials burn true. In the four days after snapping back at a Texan woman who spits out the n-word, Bob loses his position (and therefore his draft deferment), his middle-class girlfriend, his car, the money in his wallet, his shoes, and his freedom.
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Format: Paperback
It's 1942 and the country is pulling together in a bid to aid the war effort. Bob Jones is a well-educated black man who has left university to work as a leaderman in a shipbuilding factory. He has a steady girlfriend who comes from an upper middleclass family, a brand new car and good prospects. But he is fighting a daily rage that is being stoked by the constant racism and segregation that was common for the day.
When Bob is demoted after a run-in with a white woman at work he is barely able to control his emotions, imagining all sorts of reprisals. The shame and humiliation mixed with outrage are strong but they are tempered with the fear of consequences should he try to do anything about it.
Chester Himes' first novel is an extremely compelling tale of injustice as Bob's world inevitably falls apart. The helplessness is vividly portrayed as Bob's dreams are continually beaten down for no other reason than the colour of his skin and the urge to fight back is so strong it's palpable.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The L.A. Weekly rated this as the best book about L.A. so I purchased it. It wasn't quite what I expected, but I'm glad that I read it. Both my wife and I were amazed that this book was written and published in 1945 as it deals with serious racial tensions in L.A. in that time. The protagonist is an angry black man who suffers the slings and arrows of racism, and somehow fights his way through the trials and tribulations thrust upon him.

Foolish me, I had no idea that times were that hard for African Americans back during WWII in L.A. I thought that we had a more enlightened attitude here in sunny California. My hope is that we're a better city now and that this type of discrimination doesn't occur, but then I'm a little naive, as shown by the reality of this book.
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Format: Paperback
The rage is justified and the story needed to be told. Like a volcano, Himes had to let it out or go nuts. He was as good as Hemingway (or any of those white cats at the time) and simply was not given the respect because of his skin color.
It's a damn shame. And I'm saying this as a white guy who happens to be color-blind, as they say. Himes did end up moving to Europe where he was better treated.
Lastly, all I can say is once I started reading If He Hollers...
I could not put it down and finished it in two days--my eyes aching and all. If you're looking for the real thing, this is it.
Tough writing is not easy to find these days, writing that's from the gut and is about something... This book has it. Long live Chester Himes.
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