Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review: Siege

Book Review: 'Siege' by Edwin Corley

celebrating Black History Month 2015

 3 / 5 Stars

Here at the PorPor Books Blog, we like to celebrate Black History Month by reading a book - fiction or non-fiction - that illuminates the Black Experience.

For Black History Month 2015, our selection is 'Siege' (349 pp), published by Avon in January, 1970 (the cover artist is uncredited).

The novel is set in the USA, ca. 1969.

'Siege' opens on an intriguing note: in the early morning hours of August 30, the bridges connecting Manhattan with the rest of New York and New Jersey are being blown up. The major tunnels connecting the island with the mainland also are being demolished. As Manhattan wakes up, its stunned citizens will discover that their island is under occupation - by the 'Afro-American Army of Liberation'........... !

After that prologue, the novel goes back in time by several years in order to introduce the cast of characters and their machinations: 

William Gray is a black militant and revolutionary, and a man convinced that only violence will change the minds of whites. His goal is to force whitey - by any means necessary - to provide blacks with their own nation within the boundaries of the USA.

Major General Stanley Shawcross, known throughout the Army by his habit of wearing two grenades on his chest, is one of the most decorated black officers in the Army. But as his tour in Vietnam brings him into contact with aggrieved black soldiers, he is starting to question why blacks should shed their blood in a fight against the yellow man, when in America, blacks are continually treated as second-class citizens.

Raymond Carpenter is a celebrated poet, journalist, and activist. His hatred of whites is deep and abiding, and Carpenter will do whatever is necessary to bring down the power structure, and replace it with one more amenable to blacks.

The Reverend Abner Greenbrier (a stand-in for Martin Luther King, Jr.) is convinced that peaceful protest can bring about an end to racism, and the oppression of the black man. But as the decade of the 60s wanes, he finds his negotiation-based approach to race relations rapidly falling out of favor with blacks who want change - and want it now.

Karen Davis and Laurie Franklin are beautiful, intelligent, liberated white chicks who sympathize with the plight of the black man and the black nation....and neither are averse to getting in on some integrated romantic action, especially when it involves the young black militants who scare their parents and the rest of 'uptight' white America.

As 'Siege' unfolds, these characters will experience tragedy and triumph, and their plan to take over Manhattan island - and force America to reckon with black anger - will come to fruition. But once they have their prize, will they be able to hold it ? 

Because whitey ain't gonna take the invasion of New York City lying down........

I had some misgivings about sitting down with 'Siege', mainly because the other Edwin Corley novel I had read - 1977's 'Sargasso' - was a real dud.

But 'Siege' is much better. The chapters are short and straightforward; the writing is crisp and to the point; the characters are interesting; and the plot does a reasonably good job of keeping the reader's attention.

The main drawbacks to 'Siege' are that too much space is devoted to elaborating the takeover scheme - the seizure of Manhattan doesn't actually take place until page 234. 

'Siege' also suffers to some extent from some rather trite 'Kumbaya' moralizing by the author, who was white. In fairness, this was not unusual for a novel about race relations in the US in the late 60s.

All things considered, however, 'Siege' is an interesting look at how racial tensions, and the rise of the Black Power movement, might have played out in a hypothetical manner. It's a book worth picking up.

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