Saturday, October 15, 2005

Anansi Boys


I think this may be the second or third time I'm gloating on here about having the book signed to me. This is definitely staying high on the list of things I am thankful for. As is becoming common for this blog, it gets a brief review, and a brief note on issues I'm becoming aware of surrounding the ethnicity of its protagonists (basically the fact that the book is about black people is churning up various issues for various reasons. I'll address one of them)

Ok, so a brief review. As I'm sure you are all aware, the book is about a man everyone refers to as Fat Charlie, who is, unknown to him, one of the two sons of Anansi, the trickster god who I grew up hearing stories about. Charlie finds out about his father, as well as the existence of a brother he never knew of, when his father dies suddenly.

As a result of his father's death, Charlie meets his brother Spider, who inherited their father's magic and his love of tricks. As a result of meeting his brother and being made aware of his family's legacy, Charlie's life goes through a series of rapid, unexpected changes that take him from London to Florida to the Caribbean in an effort to get himself out of trouble, understand his new life and come to terms with his family.

Now, I've always been a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. Partly because he's one of the best writers I've ever come across when it comes to harnessing the power of myth to tell a great story and make it seem almost commonplace. I'd put him up there with Nalo Hopkinson and Terry Pratchett in that respect. Which reminds me, on the off chance he'll ever come across this, *some* people are still waiting for another 'Good Omens' style collaboration and I think we've been more than patient.

Part of the reason this book strikes a chord with me is the fact that Ananse stories originated among my father's people. This is a piece of mythology that I am really close to and I'm delighted to see non euro myth handled with this level of respect and sophistication. I have a sneaking suspicion though, that his use of a fairly 'obscure' piece of African and Caribbean myth to power his story will receive some some comments a lot less positive than my own.

And finally, my tiny commentary on color issues surrounding the book. I ran across mention of the fact that there is very little to suggest that Charlie is black in the way the book is written. Obviously it can be inferred from the fact that his father is descended from an African myth that he must be at least biracial, but very little mention is actually made of colour in the book. The fact that its even worth mentioning says a lot about how the 'default' visual for a person is always white if they are without explicit ethnic descriptors, especially in a genre as whitewashed as science fiction. I have to wonder if that was done deliberately to feel out people's reactions or whether it was a side effect of Neil Gaiman being Neil Gaiman. Either way, it didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the book since I assumed Charlie was going to be black anyway. In fact I didn't notice it until after I was done with the book. It is something I expect black science fiction fans will talk about to a degree either way.


Brad said...


Don't know you or anything, but I just started reading Anansi Boys, and I've already a huge Neil Gaiman fan. After about a dozen pages of assuming they were white, I started to realize that the character descriptions would fit a whole lot better they were black, so I've been looking online to confirm. Thanks for helping me verify my suspicion. It's amazing that if I hadn't caught myself now, I would've gone on through the whole book assuming they were white. You're totally right that it really does suggest some interesting issues about race. It definitely is so awesome that Neil Gaiman doesn't ever say anything about it explicitly - he is just AMAZING, omg, and it's definitely just like him to pull something like that. Very cool. Anyway, thanks for your commentary. Oh, and congrats on having gotten to meet him and get your book signed! Peace.

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What I like the most about this book is that it combines mythology with reality because it has a moral to me, and at the same time it doesn't lose the fantastic essence!

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