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Incognegro Hardcover – February 6, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
The brows are furrowed and teeth mightily clenched in Pleece's noirish artwork for Johnson's pulpy tale of a black journalist who goes undercover in the 1930s South to investigate a possible trumped-up murder charge against his brother—a charge that could lead to a lynching. Zane Pinchback, who is so light-skinned he can pass for white with a little cosmetic help, writes the Incognegro column for a Harlem newspaper, and his beat (like that of many a brave black journalist at the time) is the bloody circus of lynchings still claiming lives in horrendous numbers. Johnson's tale is a smart and fast-paced one, particularly when dealing with Pinchback's reluctance to return to Mississippi (wisely preferring his comparatively sheltered Harlem life). Once he's back down South, the twists and turns of the story come fast and thick, goosed by the not particularly trustworthy explanations being given by Zane's moonshine-distilling brother, and the attention-drawing antics of Zane's playboy friend Carl, who invited himself along on a lark. Johnson and Pleece have done a mostly commendable job, though the plot gets too knotted for its own good long before the conclusion, but they give a cracking Chester Himes kick to what could have been a sub–Walter Mosley imitation. (Feb.)
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As a light-skinned African American growing up in a predominantly dark-skinned neighborhood, Johnson was electrified when he learned about the early exploits of Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP, 1931–55. In 1919, White used his own pale skin to pass for a white and investigate lynchings in the deep South. Inspired by White’s experiences, Johnson tells the similar story of Harlem journalist Zane Pinchback, whose own eyewitness reports of lynchings are regularly written up in a New York periodical under the byline Incognegro. Pinchback is on the verge of abandoning his undercover work for an editor’s job when he discovers his own brother is in jail and days away from lynching for apparently murdering a white woman. How Pinchback tracks down the real killer, saves his brother’s life, and narrowly escapes an angry mob form the plot of a riveting meditation on racism and self-reliance. The beautiful chiaroscuro pen-and-ink illustrations provided by veteran artist Pleece bring to vivid life one of the darkest chapters in America’s racial history. --Carl Hays
Top customer reviews
The story is fast-paced and gripping--I kept reading to find out what would happen next. However, in this war between blacks and whites, the white people are a little too uniformly evil. I thought there was some hope for one in particular, but he turned out to be almost as much of a sicko as the rest of the Southern "crackers." A white character with some depth and humanity would have made the story less starkly . . . well, black and white.
I was led by this reading to learn more about Walter White, a real-life investigator who did even more dramatically heroic undercover work against murderous racism than this book's fictional hero performs. The recovered history in this book, and its invitation to remember more of it, is the most valuable part for me. Thank you Mr. Johnson and Mr. Pleece for infusing a format aimed at young people with such serious and relevant, yet also engaging, content.
In addition to Johnson's writing, the artwork was simplistic (in a good way) with clean lines. I liked that the book was black-and-white, further blurring the nature of race within the story.
This books topic certainly seemed like it had the makings of being worth the purchase and I was not disappointed.
The drawings were phenomenal adding real value to the storyline whilst the story itself was excellent. Not a book I'd show to kids, but something I've recommended and leant to many friends since buying.
Most recent customer reviews
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