Each year I find a book that completely knocks the wind out of me – figuratively! (but also kinda literally). The Sellout by Paul Beatty is a novel with a sheer combination of absurdity, irony, and information that will make your head swim and fingers tap tap looking them up on Google.
I came across The Sellout through the lovely people on #bookstagram that I follow, and each review that I read made me want to pick it up instantly. As if the book fairies heard my wish, on a random day that I go to the mall and stroll the bookstore – just for the sake of strolling, we all have a window shopper within us – what do I find on the shelf?
No, not Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson – my stars are still in retrograde – but The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Sitting lonesome in the Fiction Shelf, waiting for me to grace my eyes to it’s bookspine, and pour out my wallet empty because books have suddenly started to cost a fortune here in Oman.
“If Disneyland was indeed the Happiest Place on Earth, you’d either keep it a secret or the price of admission would be free and not equivalent to the yearly per capita income of a small sub-Saharan African nation like Detroit.”
I’m sidetracking, forgive me.
But talking about The Sellout is important for me.
I’m not going to recommend this to you, nor am I going to say not to pick it up. I just want to talk about it. This novel will test you and make you question every single idea/opinion/political narrative/allyship you hold dear and proudly proclaim on social media.
“Dumbfounded, I stood before the court, trying to figure out if there was a state of being between “guilty” and “innocent.” Why were those my only alternatives? I thought. Why couldn’t I be “neither” or “both”?
After a long pause, I finally faced the bench and said, “Your Honor, I plead human.”
It will make you uncomfortable, squirm in your seat because you just laughed on something that was very dark and you realise that you’re not so high or mighty as you thought you were. Most importantly, in the political climate we’re living in and the “unprecedented” times of our lives, this book is nothing short of riotous.
So what is The Sellout about? And why is it so amazing, disturbing, and mind bending?
“The face that feigns acknowledgment that the better man got the promotion, even though deep down you and they both know that you really are the better man and that the best man is the woman on the second floor.”
The story is about a black guy called Me or Bonbon(by his on-again/off-again girlfriend) who lives in the town of Dickens in LA. Me is raised by his single father, with no knowledge about his mother’s whereabouts. His upbringing is unconventional – the word being such an understatement – and is basically homeschooled.
By day his father carries out psychological experiments on Me in the name of “education” and after that he has to work on the farm they live on.
“But in the end we found it impossible to ignore the impassioned pleas of the Lost City of White Male Privilege, a controversial municipality whose very existence is often denied by many (mostly privileged white males)… it became impossible to walk the streets of the Lost City of White Male Privilege, feeding your ego by reciting mythological truisms like “We built this country!” when all around you brown men were constantly hammering and nailing, cooking world-class French meals, and repairing your cars. You couldn’t shout ‘America, love it or leave it!’ when deep down inside you longed to live in Toronto.”
It’s all well and good, ( and traumatising and disturbing) till one day his father is killed in a police shoot out, and he is left with a farm to tend to, the last surviving cast member of the Little Rascals: Hominy who still hasn’t let go of the slavery shackles, and the town Dickens. Eventually, Dickens is removed from the map of California, which triggers something in Me and he starts reinstating slavery and segregating the school.
“I’m a farmer: we segregate in an effort to give every tree, every plant, every poor Mexican, every poor [use of the N word], a chance for equal access to sunlight and water; we make sure every living organism has room to breathe.”
This lands him in the Supreme court, and that is where the story of The Sellout begins.
If you haven’t figured out already from my very weak attempt at summarizing this giant of a book, The Sellout goes against everything that the Black Lives Matter movement stands for. However, it is satire and full of observations and questions that will leave you running back and fro, on which side to stand on.
“I think about my own silence. Silence can be either protest or consent, but most times it’s fear. I guess that’s why I’m so quiet and such a good whisperer,”
There is so much rawness to this book, so much irony that it is hard to not see how cleverly Beatty made a case for a Black person to survive and make a name for themselves. How even after 400 years of slavery the world has changed but hasn’t at the same time.
“I seriously doubt that some slave ship ancestor, in those idle moments between being raped and beaten, was standing knee-deep in their own feces rationalizing that, in the end, the generations of murder, unbearable pain and suffering, mental anguish, and rampant disease will all be worth it because someday my great-great-great-great-grandson will have Wi-Fi, no matter how slow and intermittent the signal is.”
To read The Sellout is quite task. It is no easy read.
You will have Google open while reading side by side, because unless you’re an American or an African American who has been through experiences of identity crises in America, you’ll need help understanding the nuances. However, that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing.
“I’m so tired of black women always being described by their skin tones! Honey-colored this! Dark-chocolate that! My paternal grandmother was mocha-tinged, café-au-lait, graham-fucking-cracker brown! How come they never describe the white characters in relation to foodstuffs and hot liquids? Why aren’t there any yogurt-colored, egg-shell-toned, string-cheese-skinned, low-fat-milk white protagonists in these racist, no-third-act-having books? That’s why black literature sucks!”
Paul Beatty is a Mr. Know-It-All, in one single paragraph he will sum up some of the most politically messed up realities about the world, and leave you dumbfounded. And his quips aren’t just limited to America. He talks about the entire world, taboos, and off limit topics that even you and me would avoid.
All in all, The Sellout by Paul Beatty is the most outrageous, courageous, rebellious, and fabulous book you can ever read. But you need to learn how to read Beatty. Lucky for you, he is patient and is totally worth the effort.
So if you want to read The Sellout, go for it with an open and a cautious mind. If you don’t want to read it, then happily be however you are, with the books that pull your fancy.
Onto the Basics:
- Rating: 5.0/5.0
- Favorite quote: “That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book—that we can turn the page and move on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.”
- Reader level: The Sellout is hard. Really hard. Constantly looking up references and meanings.
- Should you read: I don’t know, should you? Would you? Could you?
- Would I read it again: ABSOLUTELY.
Till next time,