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Long Division Paperback – June 11, 2013
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Defying a patronizingly racist spelling bee on live television, 14-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson’s rant goes viral and becomes an embarrassment on a national scale. Sent to stay with family in the small town of Melahatchie, he distracts himself from Internet infamy, redneck racists, and a grandmother who’s not afraid to make him cut her a switch by reading a mysterious book. Titled Long Division, it also follows a 14-year-old named Citoyen Coldson but in 1985. When a missing girl from the neighborhood turns up as a character, real life and fiction begin to blur across time. Laymon’s debut novel is an ambitious mix of contemporary southern gothic with Murakamiesque magical realism. Though forced at moments, the story is rich and labyrinthine, populated with complex characters. Told from the parallel points of view of the two boys named City, the book elegantly showcases Laymon’s command of voice and storytelling skill in a tale that is at once dreamlike and concrete, personal and political. --Greg Baldino
"Funny, astute and searching.... The author's satirical instincts are excellent. He is also intimately attuned to the confusion of young black Americans who live under the shadow of a history that they only gropingly understand and must try to fill in for themselves." Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
"Don't miss Kiese Laymon's Long Division. One Mississippi town with two engaging stories in two very different decades. The sharp humor and deep humanity make this debut novel unforgettable." Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC
"A novel within a novelhilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.... Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways. Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world." Kirkus Reviews
"Laymon’s debut novel is an ambitious mix of contemporary southern gothic with Murakamiesque magical realism.... the book elegantly showcases Laymon’s command of voice and storytelling skill in a tale that is at once dreamlike and concrete, personal and political." Booklist
Smart, exciting and energetic...the language romps and roars along through some truly wonderful comic scenes and yet the book doesn’t hesitate to comment seriously on questions that matter to human beings everywhere, not just in rural Mississippi.” Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine and Slapboxing with Jesus
"[One of] our best books of the year so far...Layman’s debut novel is bursting with colloquial language from three generations of Mississippi African Americans, mixed with gut-piercing truths about a long racial divide that persists to this day." —Diane Colson, School Library Journal
Laymon is a brilliant young writer...this is a book that sings in the heart but challenges readers to take careful consideration of the power of memory. Like the best of Hurston, Ellison, or Bambara, Laymon’s craft flows on frequencies that both honor and extend the traditions those writers established.” William Henry Lewis, author of I Got Somebody in Staunton
"A little fantasy, a little mystery and a lot hilarious." Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Smart and funny and sharp...I loved it." Jesmyn Ward, author of Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, winner of 2011 National Book Award for Fiction
"Long Division is one of those books that I picked up and just couldn’t stop reading...powerful, a classic American novel." Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation and Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop
"Kiese Laymon is an amazing, courageous and brave novelist and essayist.... Laymon fiercely tackles issues of prejudice, adolescence and love with a swagger and confidence all his own. You rarely find novels this honest and engaging. Read this book." Michigan Quarterly Review
"Laymon’s voice is unique, a rarity in an era during which fiction tends all too often to chase trends.... At times touching, at times poignant, Laymon more than once strikes a beautiful chord in the midst of what often feels gritty and intentionally provocative. Those touching insights make Long Division worth the effort, and readers who stick with the story (stories, actually) will find themselves thinking about City and the people in his life long after they close the book." Chicago Book Review
"A curious, enjoyable novel...take[s] relish in skewering the disingenuous masquerade of institutional racism..." Publishers Weekly
The racial/ethical awareness is as complex as Coetzee’s, and Laymon is just as good a writer. Laymon takes some real risks. I love the interplay of spirituality and sexuality. Nothing sounds forced, pandering or trendy. City, the husky citizen of the imagination, feels totally singular and totally representative. That’s tough to pull off.” Tim Strode, author of Ethics of Exile
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While I was reading the novel, I enjoyed the adventures of the two main characters, both named City Coldson, but divided by 28 years. Long Division is a novel within a novel, and I wondered at the end if 1985 City was real, and not a character in a novel, or if 2013 City was real and not a character in a novel. I really hope that sentence makes sense, but if it doesn’t, that’s the complexity that is Long Division. The ending is a bit vague with the answers, leaving the reader to make up their own minds. I’d like to think both City Coldsons were real, but that would mean…oh my…*scratches head*
Moving on, Long Division is a novel about teenagers making sense of the racial inequalities in their world, as well as learning to be responsible for one’s actions, both positive and negative. Because it is a novel with time travel in it, the reader experiences life in 1964, 1985, and 2013. Making each of these time periods distinct, and the characters interactions during each of the time periods, is what Laymon does best. For example, I was a tween in 1985, therefore a number of the references 1985 City makes, how he speaks, is very true to the time period. Conversely, 2013 City reads just like one of my students. Laymon does a good job capturing the myriad of thoughts teenagers will have in a given moment. This oftentimes led to some hilarious inner monologues and exchanges from both of the young men. Both 1985 City’s and 2013 City’s section are given to the reader in first person, so we are privy to the boys mixture of deep and mundane thoughts. And just like regular teens, these thoughts can go from deep to mundane in the blink of an eye. It was usually at those moments that I laughed the most.
The novel takes place over a series of days, but both 1985 City and 2013 City make the transition from boys to men in that short period of time, coming to understand the complexity of the effects of one’s decision and how it can have a lasting impact. I won’t give it away, but there is a moment towards the end where 1985 City has to make a decision that no adult would want, but he handles it with a maturity and grace that is absolutely beautiful.
Lastly, Long Division is not a novel where you can sit back and relax. You have to pay attention; notice the social commentary that Laymon drops subtly all throughout the novel. It is a very different type of Young Adult novel, but is one that teens are capable of finding, discussing, and examining the deeper meanings behind the words presented on the page. It is a novel that respects the teenage mind, while challenging them at the same time.
Originally published at Rich in Color [...]
I am off to read Mr. Kiese Laymon's other book "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America"
Truthfully a lot of its meaning seemed to fly over my head. It was pretty interesting. Maybe a better read for someone more analytical than me. I was looking for a simple joy read and this doesn't quite fit that.
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