Book Review: White Tears by Hari Kunzru

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Woah. Where to begin on this wild ride? What starts off as a seemingly normal coming of age story ultimately swallows you into a dark, distorted reality that will crawl under your skin. White Tears is not at all what I expected, but it completely blew me away.

Description:

Two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the glamorous heir to one of America’s great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a 1920s blues recording by a musician Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

(Description from Goodreads.)

Review of White Tears:

The story begins with two young white men, who move to the city to start their own recording company. But what Kunzru delivers is a meditation on race and cultural appropriation, ghost story, and murder mystery wrapped into one literary novel.

One day, Seth wanders around NYC with a recorder, and records a short clip of an old man singing a chorus of a song. And yet, when he plays the clip back for Carter, they hear the complete song, and Seth hears himself walking across the city he has no memory of being in. And this is where the story beings to mold into its warped ways…

Carter becomes obsessed with this clip, and edits it until it has the authentic sound he loves in older music. They post the fake song online as Side A of an old record, when a collector comments on their song, he warns them about Charlie Shaw, the bluesman that they believed they had made up. From there, the story begins to unravel into dark mysteries, horror, and hallucination. The collector asks, “What’s on Side B?”

And this idea of Side A and B becomes the structure of the novel. What unfolds on Side B of this novel is like diving into dark murky waters. Side B feels like an acid trip at parts, but one that – if you can stay with it – is worth it for the excellent writing.  It’s uncomfortable, even horrific at times, as it blurs timelines and realities into a compelling story.

Though it was at times slow, at times too muddled, it was ultimately a haunting story that I can’t seem to get out of my head.

 

**** out of 5

Discussion:

What did you make of the main character Seth? Did you find Carter as magnetic as Seth did?

In what ways do you see the ideas of authenticity, ownership, and appropriation come into play throughout the novel?

What was the most challenging part of the story for you? Would you consider this book a ghost story? What was your favorite scene in the book?

 

Have you read a book that just wouldn’t leave your head even once you finished it?

Comment below or check out some of my other recent reviews!

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