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Cane: A Library of America eBook Classic

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A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt str A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. Impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, the pieces are redolent of nature and Africa, with sensuous appeals to eye and ear.


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A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt str A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. Impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, the pieces are redolent of nature and Africa, with sensuous appeals to eye and ear.

30 review for Cane: A Library of America eBook Classic

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Quiet and eerie, Cane trembles with surreal beauty. Toomer's language is at once lucid and suggestive, his subjects disturbing and anguished; the tension between Toomer's aesthetically appealing prose and his painful subject matter proves to be increasingly unsettling as the book unfolds. Juxtaposing poetry and prose, past and present, north and south, script and narrative, the three-part experimental work of fiction also defies easy categorization, further upsetting readers' expectations and em Quiet and eerie, Cane trembles with surreal beauty. Toomer's language is at once lucid and suggestive, his subjects disturbing and anguished; the tension between Toomer's aesthetically appealing prose and his painful subject matter proves to be increasingly unsettling as the book unfolds. Juxtaposing poetry and prose, past and present, north and south, script and narrative, the three-part experimental work of fiction also defies easy categorization, further upsetting readers' expectations and emotions. Despite the short book's disconcerting character, or because of it, Cane is spellbinding: it feels impossible to put aside, once begun.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Powerful and poetic vignettes of blacks in rural Georgia and immigrants to the Washington D.C. area near the turn of the 20th century. We feel their daily integration with their mind-numbing, dusty work in the cane fields or saw mills and feel their struggle against internalized forms of racism and sexism. In the urban environment, we feel their mix of hopes for promised freedom and of their alienation and despair of continual poverty. Some find a connection in churches to the values from their Powerful and poetic vignettes of blacks in rural Georgia and immigrants to the Washington D.C. area near the turn of the 20th century. We feel their daily integration with their mind-numbing, dusty work in the cane fields or saw mills and feel their struggle against internalized forms of racism and sexism. In the urban environment, we feel their mix of hopes for promised freedom and of their alienation and despair of continual poverty. Some find a connection in churches to the values from their rural origins while others seethe with anger and jealousies and get in trouble or numb themselves with drink. The rise of the jazz age call some to other avenues of hope and make a backdrop for others haunted by forbidden interracial lust. Toomer’s capturing of the rhythms of speech by ordinary people is a marvel that feels to me the equal of the more prolific fellow member of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes. It was a bit of a surprise to experience his sensitivity in portraying women in his first six stories. I admire the adaptation of repetitive call and response schemes common to the Baptist church. One story begins and ends with the haunting refrain: Betty was the white woman who had two Negro sons. She’s dead; they’ve gone away. The pines whisper to Jesus. The Bible flaps its leaves with an aimless rustle on her mound. The poems placed between narratives make for moving or shocking interludes. For example, two poems frame a story of a black housekeeper who is courted by the white son of her employer. Jealousy on the part of a black admirer leads to a fight ending with the white getting his throat cut and the victor getting burned up in an old cotton factory by a white mob. u>Portrait in Georgia Hair—braided chestnut, coiled like a lyncher’s rope Eyes--fagots Lips--old scars, or the first red blisters Breath—the last sweet scent of cane And her slim body white as the ash of black flesh after flame The following incantation is repeated three times with the story of the tragedy: Red nigger moon. Sinner! Blood-burning moon—Sinner! Come out that fact’ry door. I see why this work is considered a seminal voice in American literature. Although this book is typically identified as “black literature”, Toomer himself, whose mixed blood allowed him often to “pass” as a white, once advocated for a broader view in a letter to a magazine: “From my own point of view I am naturally and inevitably an American. I have strived for a spiritual fusion analogous to the fact of racial intermingling. Without denying a single element in me, I have sought to let them function as complements. I have tried to let them live in harmony. Within the last two or three years however, my growing need for artistic expression as pulled me deeper and deeper into the Negro group. …Now I cannot see myself as aloof and separated. My point of view has not changed; it has deepened, it has widened.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    An astonishingly beautiful, sensual, lyrical, formally experimental book. In character vignettes of one, two, three pages interleaved with short poems, Toomer explores the lives of black people, mostly in the rural south, specifically a tiny hamlet dominated by a sawmill (marked mostly by smells and sounds), sugar cane fields and pines, the timeseason--autumn, the time, dusk. In fact, every story in this collection could be called 'Dusk'--with all its overtones. Though largely rural, a couple of An astonishingly beautiful, sensual, lyrical, formally experimental book. In character vignettes of one, two, three pages interleaved with short poems, Toomer explores the lives of black people, mostly in the rural south, specifically a tiny hamlet dominated by a sawmill (marked mostly by smells and sounds), sugar cane fields and pines, the timeseason--autumn, the time, dusk. In fact, every story in this collection could be called 'Dusk'--with all its overtones. Though largely rural, a couple of the portraits are of city people--and though Toomer was associated with the Harlem Renaissance, the city is Washington DC, where Toomer grew up, a weird liminal zone between North and South. A man of mixed race, son of prominent people back several generations, an interesting American tale in itself, he struggled with America's sense of categorization of race. Toomer was a very complex person and his portraits are equally complex, and extremely poetic. He didn't write much after Cane, and spiritual quests occupied much of his life. He followed Gurdjieff, he was a Quaker, he corresponded with Edgar Cayce, and even studied Scientology. A restless seeker, he was a subtle and questioning man, and Cane is a tour de force. Here's a lyric passage in a piece called "Blood-Burning Moon": "Up from the deep dusk of a cleared spot on th edge of the forest a mellow glow arose and spread fan-wise into the low-hanging heavens. And all around the air was heavy with the scent of boiling cane. A large pile of cane-stalks lay like ribboned shadows upon the ground. A mule, harnessed to a pole, grudged lazily round and round the pivot of the grinder. Beneath a swaying oil lamp, a Negro alternately whipped out at the mule,and fed cane-stalks to the grinder. A fat boy waddled pails of fresh ground juice between the grinder and the boiling stove. Steam came from the copper boiling pan. The scene of cane came from the copper pan and drenched the forest and the hill that sloped to factory town, beneath its fragrance It drenched the men in circle seated around the stove. Some chewed at the white pulp of stalks, but there was no need for them to., if all they wanted was to taste the cane. One tasted it in factory town. And from factory town one could see the soft haze thrown by the glowing stove upon the low-hanging heavens." Here's a passage from 'Fern': (my favorite story) "We walked down the Pike with people on all the porches gaping at us. "Doesnt it make you mad?" She meant the row of petty gossiping people. She meant the world. Through a canebrake that was ripe for cutting, the branch was reached. Under a sweet-gum tree, and where reddish leaves had dammed the creek a little, we sat down. Dusk, suggesting the almost imperceptible procession of giant trees, settled with a purpose haze about the cane. I felt strange, as I always do in Georgia, particularly at dusk. I felt that things unseen to men were tangibly immediate. It would not have surprised me had I had vision. People have them in Georgia more often than you would suppose. A black woman once saw the mother of Christ and drew her in charcoal on the courthouse wall [this drawing appears in other stories]… When one is on the soil of one's ancestors, most anything can come to one…"

  4. 5 out of 5

    Zadignose

    This is quite a brilliant, remarkable, and odd book that somehow no one told me personally that I should read. Why has the secret been kept? Okay, a recent check confirms that Bloom had it on his Western Canon list. But Toomer's just a name, how was I supposed to know he's actually good? It is, to a large extent, a portrait of many of the horrors and a few of the beauties of small-town post-slavery but-still-gravely-unjust southern life from a black perspective. It's also an uncharaterizable amal This is quite a brilliant, remarkable, and odd book that somehow no one told me personally that I should read. Why has the secret been kept? Okay, a recent check confirms that Bloom had it on his Western Canon list. But Toomer's just a name, how was I supposed to know he's actually good? It is, to a large extent, a portrait of many of the horrors and a few of the beauties of small-town post-slavery but-still-gravely-unjust southern life from a black perspective. It's also an uncharaterizable amalgam of styles and modes, incorporating some lyric poetry, some straight narrative, some psychological insight, some expressionistic stuff, some borderline surrealism, all processed deftly by an innovative and masterly mind. Somehow he works in such oddities as this: "Her mind is a pink meshbag filled with baby toes," ...without throwing the novel into pure abstraction. Well, okay, but the whole "Rhobert" chapter is rather far-out, as far as far-out goes. Here are some other little snippets I liked: "...words is like the spots on dice: no matter how y fumbles em, there's times when they jes won't come." "God, he doesn't exist, but nevertheless He is ugly." "As he steps towards the others, he seems to be issuing sharply from a vivid dream." "Th form that's burned int my soul is some twisted awful thing that crept in from a dream, a godam nightmare, an wont stay still unless I feed it. An it lives on words. Not beautiful words. God Almighty no. Misshapen, split-gut, tortured, twisted words." Now, it's fair to say there are a couple of chapters where the author may trip up a bit. Though I may not be able to say why, the chapter "Box Seat," seemed to go wrong in precisely the same way most of the other chapters went right. Just something in the way the pieces fit together felt more put on, or something like that. And another chapter too, fell perhaps a little below brilliance. But I reckon those are the kinds of stumbles that happen when you dare to take big risks as an author and aim at something both fantastic and grotesque. And I'm not so confident in my judgement that they were stumbles, rather than something that just rubbed me the wrong way as I suspect one part or another of this book is likely to rub any reader the wrong way, once in a while. Don't let my hesitation detract from the overall message that this book is a phenomenon.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    "Karintha is a woman. Men do not know that the soul of her was a growing thing ripened too soon. They will bring their money; they will die not having found it out...Karintha at twenty, carrying beauty, perfect as dusk when the sun goes down. Karintha..." This book is a structurally-inventive mix of prose, poetry and drama with beautiful language. This new edition also contains an essay about the question of race and the life and career of the mixed-race Toomer who was an important figure in the "Karintha is a woman. Men do not know that the soul of her was a growing thing ripened too soon. They will bring their money; they will die not having found it out...Karintha at twenty, carrying beauty, perfect as dusk when the sun goes down. Karintha..." This book is a structurally-inventive mix of prose, poetry and drama with beautiful language. This new edition also contains an essay about the question of race and the life and career of the mixed-race Toomer who was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance and modernist literature.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    If you have heard a Jewish cantor sing, if he has touched you and made your own sorrow seem trivial when compared with his, you will know my feeling when I follow the curves of her profile, like mobile rivers, to their common delta. I find it impossible this morning to attempt comment on a lynching or a literary reflection thereof. Despite my tone deaf groaning as of late about dialect, the final parable in this tome touched me. Earnest. Cane is a modernist mélange of prose and verse. A Biblical If you have heard a Jewish cantor sing, if he has touched you and made your own sorrow seem trivial when compared with his, you will know my feeling when I follow the curves of her profile, like mobile rivers, to their common delta. I find it impossible this morning to attempt comment on a lynching or a literary reflection thereof. Despite my tone deaf groaning as of late about dialect, the final parable in this tome touched me. Earnest. Cane is a modernist mélange of prose and verse. A Biblical air is present but the motivations are Freudian. This book was recommended to me about 10 years ago by a childhood friend. That friend was entitled to his own weary blues.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This was a thoroughly strange and surreal book, made all the more surreal by the fact that it was one of the first avant-garde black American novels. Toomer's world explodes with color and light, with shades of Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson. If there is a document of American magical realism, this is it. It's too easy when describing the rural black South to rely on stereotypes and minstrelsy (Zora Neale Hurston, I'm looking at you). Toomer, to his credit, doesn't, at all. His world is too damn This was a thoroughly strange and surreal book, made all the more surreal by the fact that it was one of the first avant-garde black American novels. Toomer's world explodes with color and light, with shades of Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson. If there is a document of American magical realism, this is it. It's too easy when describing the rural black South to rely on stereotypes and minstrelsy (Zora Neale Hurston, I'm looking at you). Toomer, to his credit, doesn't, at all. His world is too damn weird.

  8. 5 out of 5

    leynes

    Jean Toomer’s Cane was published in a small edition in 1923. Despite favourable reviews, Cane was not reprinted until 1927. For the next forty years, it remained out of print. Like a nova, Toomer’s literary career exploded into brilliance with Cane, then faded from the view of all but the few who continuously scanned the literary galaxy. Cane proved to be a swan wong, not only, as Toomer believed, for the folk culture but also for his own writing career, as he only published one small book after Jean Toomer’s Cane was published in a small edition in 1923. Despite favourable reviews, Cane was not reprinted until 1927. For the next forty years, it remained out of print. Like a nova, Toomer’s literary career exploded into brilliance with Cane, then faded from the view of all but the few who continuously scanned the literary galaxy. Cane proved to be a swan wong, not only, as Toomer believed, for the folk culture but also for his own writing career, as he only published one small book afterwards. No matter what it may have been for him, Cane still sings to readers, not the swan song of an era that was dying, but the morning hymn of a Renaissance that was beginning. Night winds in Georgia are vagrant poets, whispering. It was an anticipation of what was to come later. Zora Neale Hurston’s first novel was published in 1934, eleven years after Cane. Richard Wright made his bow with Uncle Tom’s Children in 1938, fifteen years later. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison followed Toomer’s work by just thirty years. James Baldwin was not born when Toomer began to publish. What became known as the “Negro Renaissance” (or “Harlem Renaissance”) was partly rooted in Cane. It evidenced racial pride in the feeling expressed by writers that they had to create without regard for stereotypical audience expectations if they were to understand the special experience of Black America. As Langston Hughes put it in a manifesto of the 1920’s: “If white people are pleased, we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter.” Toomer questioned the harmonies and values of his society. Cane is no conventional world of Black “primitives” or “exotics”. It is a montage: of women “ripened too soon”, impotized by the moral prescriptions of bourgeois society, transfixed into virgins and virgin-mothers by men who do not understand them, neuroticized by the tensions between their subconscious physical urges and their conscious conformity to society’s strictures against even the possibility of emotions—women who wail futilely against their society. Cane is a world of men traumatised and destroyed by bigotry, men bent double by materialism, dreamers who cannot rouse themselves to action, men who rationalise their desires into idealised abstractions, men who cover in drink and sex to hide their fears, men who cannot afford help beyond that of material goods. Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones In their hip-pockets as a thing that’s done, And start their silent swinging, one by one. It isn’t necessary to know exactly what it means in order to feind pleasure in reading Cane. In fact it is easy to support the impression that Cane is a collection of fragments coincidentally unified by a common binding. It is a collection of character sketches, short poems, and a play. The first discrete section of the book contains six sketches. Each is set in rural Georgia and focuses on a woman’s relationship to her instinctual sexual being. The second discrete part of Cane follows the trail of history to portray characters who have migrated from the rural South to Washington D.C. The theme of the first part is reinforced by the impressionistic style of narration that conveys the sensations of instinctual life as the narrator comes to feel them. With the second part that style is no longer functional for Toomer, because he believes the urban environment, in contrast to the world of cane and soil and pine, and the changing social experience cut people off from the sources of feeling and vitiate their spirit. Toomer, therefore, needs a style in the second part that covnveys the disintegration of collective and spontaneous life. When Paul is at last ready to love, he insists upon talking about it to a doorman, assuring him that it is a genuine love, and thus donning spontaneity. When he returns from this self-conscious apology, Bona is already gone. Like Muriel and others in the world of Cane, Kabnis out of fear blocks the flow of spontaneous feeling. I used t love that girl. Yassur. An sometimes when th moon is thick an I hear dogs up th valley barkin an some old woman fetches out her song, an th winds seem like th Lord made them for t fetch an carry th smell o pine an cane, an there aint no big job on foot, I sometimes get t thinkin that I still do. The dominant contrast between the Georgia section of Cane and the Northern section is between a natural response to sexual drives and a self-conscious, frustrating inability to realise oneself. Part One thus shows the Black Southerner in his twilight hour, his strength and beauty still discernible against the complementary background of Georgia’s pine forests and cane fields, but his future definitely in jeopardy. In Part Two the background changes, becoming now the streets and “white-walled” buildings of Northern cities. There the women are afraid of their sexuality, and men are afraid to approach them. Civilisation stifles them; the pressure to conform makes them impotent. It is also true, however, that consciously or subconsciously Toomer knew that he was visiting in the South. Thus, he could write sympathetically as one who feels kinship yet maintains artistic detachment. He desired merely to observe, to sense, and to reflect the milieu, not to change it. When he wrote of Washington and Chicago, however, he lost his detachment. He wanted to reform the people, to rid them of their indolence and their anxieties and their inhibitions. Consequently his tone became sharper, sardonic, satirical. Avey, he lamented, “is too much like a cow.” She lives by instinct, with few drives and fewer goals. Yet Toomer had not sat in judgment upon Karintha and Fern, who were also creatures of instinct. Toomer, one suspects, expected such behaviour from them—they were the Southern Blacks, “the children of nature”. “Men are apt to idolize or fear that which they cannot understand, especially if it be a woman.” Cane is a challenging piece of experimental writing. It walks the line between feeding into the stereotype of Black people as over sexualised beings, and trying to write from a place within oneself, disregarding the social stigma and what white people might think. The women in Cane are objectified to the point that they become damaged. And though Jean Toomer is clearly trying to subvert this objectification of women, in doing so, he must (paradoxically) objectify them first. He writes with purpose. He tries to convey the message that no matter how hard women try, and no matter what they do, they are not permitted to be in control of their lives. Alice Walker said of the book, “It has been reverberating in me to an astonishing degree. I love it passionately, could not possibly exist without it.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    Two readerships here for which this one is UEber=pertinent :: 1) readers of the Classics of African=American fiction. 2) readers of things experimental in the category of It's Not Really a Novel (but what then is it?) 3) Also, for readers of I Ain't An African=American Author and I Don't Write Experimental Novels/Stuff. Really, this is one of the places it all began.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    Though not as well known as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer is considered one of the shining stars of the Harlem Renaissance and this collection of short stories and poems is his best work. Published in the early 20's, it shows the influence of many writers of that period who were especially fascinated with the technique of repetition -- sentences, clauses, phrases, words, you name it. It's a tricky skill, as repetition can be both effective and annoying. Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, in Though not as well known as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer is considered one of the shining stars of the Harlem Renaissance and this collection of short stories and poems is his best work. Published in the early 20's, it shows the influence of many writers of that period who were especially fascinated with the technique of repetition -- sentences, clauses, phrases, words, you name it. It's a tricky skill, as repetition can be both effective and annoying. Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, in their short stories, could be effective with it. Gertrude Stein was just annoying. Toomer was also ahead of his time in that he scorned use of apostrophes for contractions and possession, and quotation marks for dialogue. Instead he used the interview style of placing the character's name followed by a colon and what is said. The stories also employ dialect to replicate the way blacks spoke in his time. Uneven, with some stories stronger than others, Toomer deserves props for his ability to bring forth mood and anger, lust and guilt, crime and punishment. He also excels at use of personification and creative use of verbs (wherein nouns become verbs, etc.).

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hadrian

    First complete book of poetry I've read in some time, instead of just flipping through. Deeply impressed. It's good to be reminded that authors can do such things with words.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    What is the shape of a novel that has withstood the test of time? First written in 1923, Jean Toomer's Cane is an innovative work that rewrites the definition of "novel". Divided in three parts, each part is distinctive not only for its setting but also for its prose. The first is in part vignettes that exude a sexual allure. Seemingly unconnected descriptions of hued women and a landscape bound to the history of slavery are interwoven with bits of poetry and odes that resound like Old Negro spi What is the shape of a novel that has withstood the test of time? First written in 1923, Jean Toomer's Cane is an innovative work that rewrites the definition of "novel". Divided in three parts, each part is distinctive not only for its setting but also for its prose. The first is in part vignettes that exude a sexual allure. Seemingly unconnected descriptions of hued women and a landscape bound to the history of slavery are interwoven with bits of poetry and odes that resound like Old Negro spirituals. The middle passages carry the reader up North during the Great Migration. In this part the syncopated rhythms of jazz dominate the prose. Lastly, the reader returns home to the South in this short story/drama piece that recalls the fear of racial violence and questions the impact of Christianity on the black community through vernacular dialogue. Longing is a theme that runs throughout the work. Longing to be seen beyond the physical. Longing to be recognized and valued. Longing to be loved. Most of all, a longing to return to our true selves, emotionally and spiritually. Special Thanks to NetGalley and Dover Publications for access to this work.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elisa Berry

    This one is a gem; the writing is gorgeous, the stories absorbing. P-thought of you, this is a definite genre bender with episodic chapters/short stories and poetry, always referred to as a novel. Toomer is often grouped with the Harlem Renaissance and the stories center on the reverse migration of a urban Northern man to the rural South. However, Toomer never worked with black themes again and did not consider himself part of that community. As such the book exhibits a fractured experience and This one is a gem; the writing is gorgeous, the stories absorbing. P-thought of you, this is a definite genre bender with episodic chapters/short stories and poetry, always referred to as a novel. Toomer is often grouped with the Harlem Renaissance and the stories center on the reverse migration of a urban Northern man to the rural South. However, Toomer never worked with black themes again and did not consider himself part of that community. As such the book exhibits a fractured experience and the language compliments this. Its singularity makes it that much more special.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    A wonderful, magisterial voice - at its best, up there with Whitman - but young and unfinished. It has that explosive, tightrope feel of some early works by brilliant writers. It's known as the first important black novel of the Harlem Renaissance, which is funny because it's not a novel - it's some sort of weird poem/play/novel hybrid - and Toomer, who was of mixed parentage, didn't identify as black. It's hard to see which he hated and feared the most - women or himself.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    I enjoyed this. I really think everyone should read at least a couple of poems from this book. Or some of the short stories. My favorite was "Bona and Paul." Now it's time to write my english paper on this.... :/

  16. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    I was astonished that I had never heard of this book. I picked it up at random off the shelf at my local library. It is a thin book, poetic, spiritual, and revealing of the black culture in Jim Crow south in the 1920's in America. It is stunning writing. As a person interested in words and letting words carry the narrative, it is simply beautiful. Toomer's care with words carries a narrative of a world which existed, and still exists, parallel to Anglo-Saxon culture. The story, which seems rando I was astonished that I had never heard of this book. I picked it up at random off the shelf at my local library. It is a thin book, poetic, spiritual, and revealing of the black culture in Jim Crow south in the 1920's in America. It is stunning writing. As a person interested in words and letting words carry the narrative, it is simply beautiful. Toomer's care with words carries a narrative of a world which existed, and still exists, parallel to Anglo-Saxon culture. The story, which seems random and episodic, is set primarily in Jim Crow Georgia, and it reveals the way what Toomer refers to a "negro" culture adapted to the realities of their social position. The violent, sexual, religious, and menial labor threads which permeated the culture are revealed with his careful and fearless words (Cane is a reference to the sugar cane which post slavery sharecroppers harvested in Georgia). Critics hailed his a new voice of Afro-American culture, which offended him greatly. Although he had written of a particular Southern and Northern culture with which he was familiar, he did not consider himself a "Black" writer. He was raised a son in an aristocratic white household. He had a trace of "dark blood", but also was also heir to a host of Anglo-Saxon cultures. He was so offended, similar to the reaction of J. D. Salinger and Harper Lee to their critics, that he never published another book. But the one he did publish in 1926 leaves an indelible impression in the minds of those who are fortunate enough to find it and read it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    It's so difficult to categorize Cane. For the sake of convenience, one could call it a novel, and that is generally how the work is treated. But novel really neither describes the book accurately nor does it justice. Cane is an incantory combination of poetry and prose, vignettes that are loosely held together by the common theme of black American life in rural Georgia at the turn of the twentieth century. But the prose is highly poetic: "Pine needles, like mazda, are brilliantly aglow. No rain It's so difficult to categorize Cane. For the sake of convenience, one could call it a novel, and that is generally how the work is treated. But novel really neither describes the book accurately nor does it justice. Cane is an incantory combination of poetry and prose, vignettes that are loosely held together by the common theme of black American life in rural Georgia at the turn of the twentieth century. But the prose is highly poetic: "Pine needles, like mazda, are brilliantly aglow. No rain has come to take the rustle from the falling sweet-gum leaves. Over in the forest, across the swamp, a sawmill blows its closing whistle. Smoke curls up. Marvelous web spun by the spider sawdust pile. Curls up and spreads itself pine-high above the branch, a single silver band along the eastern valley." On the writing of Cane, the author, Jean Toomer, said, "The folk spirit was walking in to die on the modern desert. That spirit was so beautiful. Its death was so tragic. Just this seemed to sum life for me. And this was the feeling I put into Cane. Cane was a swan-song. It was a song of an end." This new critical edition of Cane is the only way to approach the book. A full and detailed introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr, letters and personal documents of Toomer, critical essays, and all the associated scholarly apparatus help bring context and understanding to this rich but elusive text. I first encountered the book some years ago, and it has stuck with me--it's one of those books you can spend years coming back to, finding something new every time.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    “Cane” blew me away. Southern literature, in my opinion, contains some of the most powerful and immortal books in the American literary canon. The dark, enchanted history of the South brings forth ample material for colorful characters and complex social issues. Novels born in the South are born out of and into its troubled past–a landscape fraught with the difficult union of charmed myth and bloody reality. Toomer taps into the tragic legacy of slavery to write one of the best, most enduring no “Cane” blew me away. Southern literature, in my opinion, contains some of the most powerful and immortal books in the American literary canon. The dark, enchanted history of the South brings forth ample material for colorful characters and complex social issues. Novels born in the South are born out of and into its troubled past–a landscape fraught with the difficult union of charmed myth and bloody reality. Toomer taps into the tragic legacy of slavery to write one of the best, most enduring novels about the African-American experience in the South. It’s beautiful, it’s graphic, it’s disturbing, it’s compelling–it’s everything a novel should be. READ IF: You want to read one of the most outstanding books in American literature. Not even kidding.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    More like 4 1/2 stars, but I'll round up just because I haven't rated any books 5 stars this year yet. Jean Toomer's Cane really is a "literary masterpiece." I was in awe of his style and form, how he utilizes devices we associate with theater in a novel. I also loved the comparison of the North vs. the South, especially embodied in the last short story, "Kabnis." I've got to say "The Box Seat" is my favorite story, though, followed closely by "Bona and Paul." LOVE the Harlem Renaissance!!!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I wish I studied this book in college. Cane is a fragmented piece of art composed of prose, poetry, and drama. I've never read anything like it before. The language is beautiful and rich. I needed to consume it in small bites so it didn't overwhelm me.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    This is a key piece of Harlem Renaissance proestry and its detailed and eloquent and beautiful and haunting and mellifluous...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Esther Espeland

    This was so beautiful! Slow going bc it is a Piece Of Literature but I loooved the poetry. My first time reading a composite novel

  23. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    Toomer had an interesting pedigree: he was considered a Northerner by many Southerners, and a Southerner by many Northerners. This was in part because both of his grandmothers were left plantations by white men, making them among the most prosperous citizens in the dirt poor communities around Sparta, Georgia. Toomer spent some summers with his grandmothers during childhood and even was the principal of a school in Sparta for a short time before leaving for Paris. From this perspective, he wrote Toomer had an interesting pedigree: he was considered a Northerner by many Southerners, and a Southerner by many Northerners. This was in part because both of his grandmothers were left plantations by white men, making them among the most prosperous citizens in the dirt poor communities around Sparta, Georgia. Toomer spent some summers with his grandmothers during childhood and even was the principal of a school in Sparta for a short time before leaving for Paris. From this perspective, he wrote Cane. The language in these stories in lush, and experimental for its time. Toomer never again wrote about the black experience, but he didn't need to. He pretty much says it all in this slender, exquisite book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bam

    #2016-usa-geography-challenge: GEORGIA Published in 1923 during 'The Harlem Renaissance,' this slim volume is a collection of short stories, vignettes and poems in the modernist style of that era, expressing 'the pain and beauty of the South.' The first group is set in rural Georgia, the second in Washington DC and Chicago and the last story (part three) entitled 'Kabnis' appears to be somewhat autobiographical--about a northern black man who moves to Georgia to teach in the turbulent times of se #2016-usa-geography-challenge: GEORGIA Published in 1923 during 'The Harlem Renaissance,' this slim volume is a collection of short stories, vignettes and poems in the modernist style of that era, expressing 'the pain and beauty of the South.' The first group is set in rural Georgia, the second in Washington DC and Chicago and the last story (part three) entitled 'Kabnis' appears to be somewhat autobiographical--about a northern black man who moves to Georgia to teach in the turbulent times of segregation and lynchings. After the publication of his book, Toomer said he believed that "he was writing about a way of life that was dying." This edition contains notes, critical essays and letters to help students and scholars find a deeper understanding.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Phil Overeem

    It is no wonder Alice Walker was deeply inspired by this slender but powerful, poetic, and quietly damning book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Will

    A mix of Tender Buttons and Winesburg, Ohio. You can hear Gertrude Stein all over: "Emptiness is a thing that grows by being moved." On the same page, "Her mind is a pink meshbag filled with baby toes." Later, "Life is water that is being drawn off."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pierce

    Mairin gave me this after I expressed some tiredness with the lack of artistry in some of what I've been reading lately. And yes, it was very powerfully and beautifully written. Harlem Renaissance is a new area for me. There's this wonderful naturalness and earthiness to the writing. It's odd, because my first thought was that these people are not of this land, and have been forcibly located here only a few generations earlier, and yet there is a deep harmony with the place they occupy, if not t Mairin gave me this after I expressed some tiredness with the lack of artistry in some of what I've been reading lately. And yes, it was very powerfully and beautifully written. Harlem Renaissance is a new area for me. There's this wonderful naturalness and earthiness to the writing. It's odd, because my first thought was that these people are not of this land, and have been forcibly located here only a few generations earlier, and yet there is a deep harmony with the place they occupy, if not the social landscape. I love descriptions of the South. I haven't much to say on this because it is alien to me. But again, my favourite way to consume poetry seems to be having it interspersed with short stories. I did not enjoy the third section so much, the long short story. It lost me a bit.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    I read this for the first time as an undergrad. It didn't appeal to me then, but this time 'round, things were a bit more clear. I think that the most important issue this novel touches is that of identity. For Toomer himself, this was a huge problem. We see this come to the surface in many (if not all) of his character sketches. The jagged style of writing is a bit confusing for many, but for your students, relate it to the movements of jazz music and the lights turn on. This is a stunning exampl I read this for the first time as an undergrad. It didn't appeal to me then, but this time 'round, things were a bit more clear. I think that the most important issue this novel touches is that of identity. For Toomer himself, this was a huge problem. We see this come to the surface in many (if not all) of his character sketches. The jagged style of writing is a bit confusing for many, but for your students, relate it to the movements of jazz music and the lights turn on. This is a stunning example of the "art" of literature. The expressions, movements, and portrayals are very real and vivid.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kimball

    This book was OK. I didn't understand why poetry was interjected in the middle of the story. It made it hard to follow. But even if there wasn't poetry it still would have been hard to follow. Oh well. I liked the last two hours of the book that described the history of why the author wrote it as well as a good background to it all. I found that more interesting than the book itself. Don't know why it was so long though. I tried. No one can say I didn't try.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sunny

    Gorgeous, insightful poetry mixed in with short micro-stories that combine to create a rich impression of life for black folks in the south after the Reconstruction. The last third of the book was comprised of a single story line that I just couldn't quite connect to. But, the first two-thirds was brilliant. And I typically don't even like poetry.

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