Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes

By William Kennedy

(Viking, $26.95, 337pages) 

Who is this author?

You may know William Kennedy from his Albany Cycle of novels, set in the city where he was born and grew up. Or perhaps you recall “Ironweed,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1984 and was adapted as a film. That cycle of  books also includes “Legs,” “Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game,” “Quinn’s Book,”  “Very Old Bones,” “The Flaming Corsage” and “Roscoe.” “Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes” is the latest to explore the fictional Phelan family and the real history of Albany, N.Y.

Kennedy began his writing career as an investigative journalist and covered the civil rights movement and the revolutions in Cuba. He also is a MacArthur Fellow, having received one of the foundation’s coveted and prestigious “genius grants” for his work.

What is this book about?

“Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes” is a sprawling, complex novel about Daniel Quinn, who is a journalist like the author and has a Cuban wife, Ernest Hemingway, mysticism, revolutions, corrupt politicians, criminals in the drug trade and race riots. And let’s not forget Fidel Castro.

Set in the 1950s and in 1968, partly in Cuba and partly in Albany – could any two places be less alike? – it is also a tale of love and loyalty and is peopled by a rambunctious crew of unforgettable characters – a Kennedy specialty.

Why you’ll like it:

The book’s great appeal is its quirky characters, who nearly jump off the page. Kennedy is praised for his ability to write vividly and humorously, with a musicality in his style that is very engaging. His experiences covering the Cuban revolution and the American civil rights turmoil give a strong real-world underpinning to his fictional tale.

What others are saying:

“Thick with backroom deal making and sharp commentary on corruption, Kennedy’s novel describes a world he clearly knows, and through plenty of action, careful historical detail and larger-than-life characters, he brilliantly brings it to life,” says Publishers Weekly.

“The book is a masterly blend of a serious examination of the people’s inherent right to fight oppression (and the dangers involved) and a political romp. Kennedy again proves that he is among our finest writers and that the American literary novel thrives. Bravo!” says Library Journal.

“”Written with such brio and encompassing humanity that it may well deserve to be called the best of the bunch… In Mr. Kennedy’s Albany, as in William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, the past is never past,” says the Wall Street Journal.

“A jazzy, seductive, historically anchored novel of politics and romance, race and revolution…Music, rapid-fire dialogue, lyrical outrage, epic malfeasance, trampled idealism, and a bit of autobiography drive Kennedy’s incandescent and enrapturing tale of the heroic and bloody quest for justice and equality and the gamble of love,” says Booklist.

When is it available?

“Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes” is available now at the Hartford Public Library.

One Response to Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy

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