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Foreigners
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From 'one of the literary giants of our times' (New York Times), a brilliant hybrid of reportage, fiction, and historical fact that tells the stories of three black men whose tragic lives speak resoundingly to the place and role of the foreigner in English society.

About the Author

Caryl Phillips was born in St. Kitts, West Indies, and brought up in England. He is the author of three books of nonfiction and eight novels. His most recent book, Dancing in the Dark, won the 2006 PEN/Beyond Margins Award, and his previous novel, A Distant Shore, won the 2004 Commonwealth Prize. His other awards include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and currently lives in New York.

Reviews

Along with interest and admiration, I read parts of Caryl Phillips's new book, Foreigners, with, I confess, a mixture of bemused perplexity and thwarted expectations, wondering, what is this guy up to here? The rather stodgy historical passages coexist somewhat uneasily with the more fluid and lyrical fictionalized accounts. The three sections rub up against each other with a fierce but not quite cohesive energy. But in the end, the book is a bleakly ironic examination of what it means to be Other-historically and socially-through the stories of three very different black men in England. The first section, "Doctor Johnson's Watch," is narrated by a late-18th-century journalist who sets out to write a piece for a gentleman's magazine about Francis Barber, the Jamaican boy who was "given" in the early 1750s to Dr. Samuel Johnson, of the famous Dictionary. Dr. Johnson raised the "negro" as his ward until his death; he gave him his freedom and a generous pension, which Barber squandered. At the end of the narrative, Barber, lying on the verge of death in a squalid pauper's hospital, offers poignant insight into the nature of freedom and otherness, insight that the journalist, despite good intentions, may not be prepared to receive. The second section, "Made in Wales," is narrated in a hard-boiled third person that traces the rise and fall of Randy Turpin, the mixed-race boxer who beat Sugar Ray Leonard in 1951 to become, briefly, middleweight champion of the world, then fell, inevitably, the narrative suggests, into hapless debt and ruin. The third, final, most riveting and beautifully written section, "Northern Lights," is told by a chorus of voices who cobble together the mysterious life and death of David Oluwale, a 20th-century version of Bartleby, a stowaway from Nigeria who washes up in Leeds in 1949 and ends his life stubbornly homeless, willfully persecuted and in 1969, drowned. Interestingly, Phillips goes into none of these three black men's consciousnesses or psyches. The reader stands some distance away from them with the narrators; except for Barber's piercing, frank lament, we don't get any direct emotional information from any of them. This narrative strategy is essential to the book's intent, as is, I suspect, the uneasiness it provoked in me along the way. Phillips gets at real-life complexities in a visceral, nondidactic way: there are no victims or heroes here. I finished the book hearing Melville's "Ah humanity!" echoing back through its pages. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

"With great empathy, and through a collage of voices, Phillips has created three distinct portraits. All are superbly crafted and utterly absorbing reads... An important and sobering book, highly relevant today" * Daily Mail *
"Phillilps once again demonstrates why he remains one of Britain's pre-eminent writers, ranking alongside the great American figures who were the inspiration behind his decision to become a man of letters - Richard Wright, William Faulkner, James Baldwin" -- David Lammy * Guardian *
"An immensely talented writer, Phillips resurrects their thwarted hopes in this subtle meditation on identity and belonging, which explores how impossible it is to define the composition of a nation" * Irish Times *
"Foreigners is among Caryl Phillips most powerful, empathic, and profoundly affecting books" * Country *

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