A girl and her cat take on the world with nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book and enough dreams to fill the universe.
Black and white. This fragment means so many things to so many people. For some, the idea of black and white skin color comes to mind. For others, right and wrong. Ying and yang. The balance. Paul Volponi’s novel Black and White is about all of this.
It begins with a friendship between a black boy named Marcus and a white boy named Eddie in inner city New York. Black and white. This friendship is completely built upon their common interest and skill level in basketball. Normally, I loathe to pick up a book where sports is a major component of the story line, yet I didn’t seem to mind it so much this time. It worked, primarily because it deals with a team and unity which has complications based on interpersonal relationships. Things especially begin to heat up after the two friends mug a black man, the white man shooting their victim. Fortunately, the man is not fatally wounded, but he identifies Marcus as one of his robbers.
Suddenly, it all hits the fan. Volponi really plays on white guilt in this story since Marcus takes the fall for the entire incident and goes to jail. Marcus is written as though he were merely a victim of circumstance while Eddie is almost portrayed as a villain. Marcus is almost Christ-like in his sacrifice of his future to protect his friend and in hindsight this really begins to bother me. Two best friends, practically inseparable, commit crimes and the black one gets the punishment while the white one stands by. No doubt things like this have happened in the past but it makes me sick to me stomach. I know our American system of justice has its problems, being quick to decide guilty for a black man and listening to the white man’s money, sometimes it’s just easier not to think about it and this book throws it in your face.
Racism is a hard subject and this story reveals racism’s ugly appearance. Eddie’s parents call Marcus their second son at the beginning of the book, yet as soon as Marcus is in handcuffs, suddenly they fall back on their racial stereotypes. Eddie’s sister, Rose, doesn’t fall into this trap and is one of two white people rooting for Marcus throughout this entire story. Eddie even shows himself as slightly racist when Marcus and Rose begin to become romantically involved. He just pretends he didn’t see them sitting together, almost on top of each other. The principal is ‘racist’ for following the Board of Education’s rules. A white kid stabs a black boy in the back with a chair leg. The whole book is a guilt trip for whites. It’s as though Volponi is asking us “how racist are you?” through 185 pages.
How selfish are you? How racist are you? Would you sacrifice your future for truth? A friend? Where do you draw the line? Do you let someone else take the blame so you can be alright? I don’t know. I’d like to think I’d be more like Marcus, but I have never robbed anyone or been around when someone was shot. I live a safe, quiet, pedestrian life in rural Nebraska so I can only speculate and hope never to be in this situation, where right and wrong are glaringly obvious and blurred at the same time. Or is this everyday? I’m sure we’ve all had those experiences where we knew the right decision and made the wrong one because it would turn out better for us in the end. All the tiny decisions you make, what do they say about you?
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No One Here But a Writer Who Gets Up and Try
Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller
Psychological, thriller, mystery, secrets, betrayal, adoption, romance, poetry, art
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Stefan Falke photographs artists who live and work along the 2000 miles long U.S.- Mexico border to document the vibrant culture of the region on both sides. All photos © Stefan Falke (use with written permission by the author only)