Friday, August 26, 2011

#BookReview: The Sport of the Gods - Paul Laurence Dunbar

"Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad." - Euripides

Best known for his poetry, Paul Laurence Dunbar also authored four books of short stories, five novels and a play in his brief time on earth. The Sport of the Gods, published in 1902, and made into a silent film in 1921, is the last novel.

It's the story of the Hamiltons, a family of black servants in the post-Civil War South. The patriarch of the family, Berry Hamilton, has served the Oakleys faithfully for thirty years. In addition to raising their children, Joe and Kit, Berry's wife Fannie works as a housekeeper for the Oakleys. At age 18, Joe is an up and coming barber in the white shops, while Kit prepares to become a lady. It's safe to say that the family is the envy of the black community.

The Hamilton household is turned upside down when Berry is accused of stealing a large sum of money from the Oakley house. Though Berry is innocent, it becomes a matter of the word of a white man versus that of a black man. With Berry sentenced to a life in prison, the remaining members of the Hamilton family are put out of the home they've enjoyed on the Oakley estate. Shunned by both the black and white communities, the Hamiltons are forced to leave town.

Making a fresh start in New York, the once highly-esteemed Hamiltons begin their descent into a world that they never would have imagined existed.

What did you like about this book?
I've read poems by Dunbar, so I was familiar with his work in that genre, but this was the first story that I've read by him. The writing is so fresh and contemporary that I had to keep reminding myself that it was published in 1902. I was absolutely blown away by it.

What did you dislike about this book?
It's not necessarily a dislike, but the characters do speak in the dialect of the time. At times, that made it difficult to decipher what they were saying, but it could still be figured out by sounding out in my head or saying the words aloud.

What could the author do to improve this book?
At just 118 pages, it was a really quick read, but I would have been more than satisfied with additional pages. I'm interested to know what happens with the family beyond what was written.

Published 1902

Interested in reading this? It's available for free in electronic format at The Sport of the Gods

Theme: When the World Turns Blue by Joe Sample & Lalah Hathaway

Originally posted June 14, 2010
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