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Shackling Water


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About the Author

Adam Mansbach was born in 1976. He is the founding editor of the hip hop journal Elementary, and currently serves as an Artistic Consultant to Columbia University's Center for Jazz Studies. He is the author of the acclaimed poetry collection genius b-boy cynics getting weeded in the garden of delights, and a former drum technician for the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. An MC and performer who collaborates with both jazz and hip hop musicians, he lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. His next novel follows three generations of a Jewish family.


This might be the best fictional work about jazz since James Baldwin's beautiful and soulful Sonny's Blues. A Knstlerroman (artist's novel), this first novel tells the story of Latif James-Pearson, an aspiring yet often self-doubting young African American, as he moves from Boston to New York to become a professional jazz saxophonist. The first third of the book is a verbal feast, as Mansbach's fiercely textured prose powerfully conveys the New York jazz scene of the 1990s and superbly echoes the rich cadence and rhythm of a fantastic jazz riff. While the novel loses some of its narrative momentum in the middle and latter stages of the story the main character's seemingly inevitable bout with narcotics is forced and probably unnecessary it nevertheless presents an often searingly moving and dense account of what motivates a young, talented jazz musician. Mansbach, who received his M.F.A. from Columbia University and performs with jazz and hip-hop musicians as a spoken-word artist, is definitely a writer to watch. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Roger A. Berger, Everett Community Coll., WA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

A talented African-American saxophonist moves from Boston to Harlem to study with the jazz master he idolizes in Mansbach's first novel, a passionate debut that succeeds despite an abundance of plot cliches. Latif Pearson, the young protagonist, gets hooked on the sounds of Albert Van Horn; after years of building his chops, 19-year-old Latif gets up the nerve to make the move to New York, where he spends his nights watching Van Horn play from the sidelines. The dark side of Latif's debut comes when he takes a job running drugs for the local dealer, but he is able to make it work as he adds a relationship to the mix, falling in love with a beautiful white painter named Mona. The ambitious, precocious Latif idolizes Van Horn, but when the older musician finally invites him to some private jam sessions and then onstage, Latif puts so much pressure on himself that he implodes and succumbs to the lures of heroin. Mansbach gets past the hoary plot cliches with some strong characterizations, although his prose waxes purple when he writes about the music and Latif's street life: `The horn dipped and bobbed above the amniotic ocean... vanishing inside the grave of Icarus only to reanimate ichthyoid." Setting aside these flaws, both hardcore and would-be jazz fans will find plenty of meat on the bones of Mansbach's debut; with a more innovative plot, it might have been a truly memorable book. Agent, Richard R. Abate. (Mar.) Forecast: Though a bit dated in theme and likely to appeal mostly to New York readers, this promising novel augurs well for Mansbach's future. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"A rushing torrent of swirling, coruscating language, jumpy with jazz-influenced rhythms and shimmering with tumbling shards of urban imagery." -The Boston Globe

"[Mansbach is] a veritable multi-culti code-switching genius. . . . The novel forges ahead to a powerfully humble conclusion that testifies to the authentic impulses behind creation." -The San Francisco Bay Guardian "This might be the best fictional work about jazz since James Baldwin's beautiful and soulful Sonny's Blues." -Library Journal "Pulls you into passages so rhythmic that for the first few pages you want to stop the meaning from leaking through. You want only to say the words out loud, hear the syllables roll off your lips." -Boston Magazine "Mansbach displays a gift for fusing the improvised energy of streetspeak with that of spiraling jazz riffs." -The New York Times Book Review

"Mansbach convincingly captures the rhythms and cadences of black language and the inner monologues that play out while artists are on stage. . . . The questions that [Shackling Water's] authorship raises-does this white boy know what he's talking about? -are forgotten." -The Washington Post "Mansbach plays with words like a rapper, themes like a jazz musician and rhythm like a hip hop dancer. Some of the most original and moving writing out there." -Boston Herald "Mansbach illuminates music's spiritual dimension and plumbs the sorrow and rage that is the legacy of every black artist. [A] bold, resonant, portrait of the artist as a young man. . . . Mansbach's eloquence and energy are unwavering and his music is divine." -Booklist (starred) "A literary debut of breathtaking splendor. Mansbach riffs like Coltrane, flows like Biggie Smalls, and heats the page with prose that might have spilled forth had Whitman learned the blues. . . . A true artistic gem." -Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur

"A stunningly beautiful, heart-aching debut . . . a brilliantly written, risk-taking novel that lands gracefully on its feet. . . . Shackling Water may be the finest novel written this year and half of the next one." -African-American Literature Book Club

"Mansbach sparkles throughout. As auspicious a debut as Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist . . . even those who don't know a whole note from a grace note will revel in glorious song and history both." -Kirkus Reviews (starred) "A passionate debut . . . this promising novel augers well for Mansbach's future." -Publishers Weekly "Language that moves with all the grace and unpredictability of a thrilling solo." -Jazziz

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