Summary and book reviews of Slumberland by Paul Beatty

Slumberland

A Novel

By Paul Beatty

Slumberland
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Jun 2008,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2009,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

Hailed by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times as one of the best writers of his generation, Paul Beatty turns his incisive eye to man’s search for meaning and identity in an increasingly chaotic world. After creating the perfect beat, DJ Darky goes in search of Charles Stone, a little-known avant-garde jazzman, to play over his sonic masterpiece. His quest brings him to a recently unified Berlin, where he stumbles through the city’s dreamy streets ruminating about race, sex, love, Teutonic gods, the prevent defense, and Wynton Marsalis in search of his artistic—and spiritual—other. Ferocious, bombastic, and laugh-out-loud funny, Slumberland is vintage Paul Beatty and belongs on the shelf next to Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, and Junot Diaz.

PART 1
THE BEARD SCRATCHERS
CHAPTER 1

You would think they’d be used to me by now. I mean, don’t they know that after fourteen hundred years the charade of blackness is over? That we blacks, the once eternally hip, the people who were as right now as Greenwich Mean Time, are, as of today, as yesterday as stone tools, the velocipede, and the paper straw all rolled into one? The Negro is now officially human. Everyone, even the British, says so. It doesn’t matter whether anyone truly believes it; we are as mediocre and mundane as the rest of the species. The restless souls of our dead are now free to be who they really are underneath that modern primitive patina. Josephine Baker can take the bone out of her nose, her knock-kneed skeleton back to its original allotment of 206. The lovelorn ghost of Langston Hughes can set down his Montblanc fountain pen (a gift) and open his mouth wide. Not to recite his rhyming populist verse, but to lick and suck some ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide

These discussion questions are designed to enhance your group's conversation about Slumberland, a jazzy novel about one DJ's quest for the perfect beat in post–Cold War Berlin.


About this book

Ferguson Sowell, aka DJ Darky, wants to create the sonic Mona Lisa: a song that will bring together every partygoer with an irresistible toe-tapping beat. He debuts his near-perfect beat to his music collective, the Beard Scratchers, and they all agree that the song is only missing one thing: a guest appearance by a man they call "the Schwa"—Charles Stone, a legendary jazz player who disappeared to Europe decades ago. DJ Darky has one clue to finding Stone: a pornographic videotape with...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

If you prefer fleshed-out, psychologically rich characters and a gratifying plot, this is not the book for you. Slumberland is, rather, a book of ideas in fictional form. It is intensely thought-provoking and never has time to be dull as it races through itself. It makes you work to wrap your mind around racial politics in post-unification Berlin and the relationship between race and aesthetic form. And it ends on a note that even DJ Darky, with his phonographic memory, could not have anticipated.   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Junot Diaz
Furiously written…another bravura performance from the searingly talented Paul Beatty. A no-holds-barred comedic romp that crushes through the Fulda Gap of Black/White, East/West relationships like an M1 tank.

Publishers Weekly

With its acerbic running commentary on race, sex and Cold War culture, the latest from Beatty,...contains flashes of absurdist brilliance..but the plot seems little more than an excuse to set up a number of comic routines, denying the story a driving, unifying plot.

Library Journal

Beatty's rolling Faulknerian prose has been praised for its "dazzling linguistic flights" (Salon), and this newest novel is no different; the dense imagery and sound create a synesthesia carnival.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. [Beatty is] not a man for half-measures, especially not for half-measures of rhetoric, and he loves nothing more than turning some anodyne myth or ill-considered conventional wisdom inside out and stomping on it for a while. Rhythmically. Marvelous.

Los Angeles Times - Chris Abani

At its core, Slumberland's sadness is that of a black man cast loose in a universe of whiteness, carrying the pure sorrow of never being seen, and an even deeper sorrow of not being able to see himself. Perhaps this is the point of the glib tone -- that one can never truly get to the heart of a difficult question by using tropes and ideas that, while ringing of personal truth, are riddled with cultural sentimentality.

NPR - Troy Patterson

There are very few novelists with Beatty's swinging sense of play, and none — except maybe fellow freakazoid Thomas Pynchon — with the knowledge and nerve to sample John Keats, Afrika Bambaataa, and From Here to Eternity as he does in this sui generis piece of heartfelt absurdism. Give it a spin.

Washington Post - Kevin Allman

With its dictionary delight mixed with cheerfully raunchy, tossed-off outrageousness, Slumberland is like a trip-hop Myra Breckinridge. (If Myra were plying her libidinous philosophy in contemporary America, it's easy to imagine her, like Sowell, dreaming of a "ménage a noir.") What Gore Vidal did for sex and gender constructs, though, Beatty does for race and prominent black Americans, with sacred cow-tipping on nearly every page.

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Beyond the Book

Unless you are exactly as hip as Paul Beatty, Slumberland is rife with Googlable moments, as DJ Darky riffs about jazz and hip-hop and funk. Here are some of the references that anchor the plot.

Sixteen hours into a marathon rave, DJ Darky reaches into his crate and pulls out a record that a fellow DJ fears will stir a riot among a bunch of white frat boys expecting industrial music rather than South Bronx hip-hop. The song that he plays is Stezo's "It's My Turn," which was all over the radio in the summer of 1989. It seems utterly quaint and tame in retrospect: "Extra extra, read all about it / It's me Stezo that has been doubted / I came to make you move and groove and get down / There's no way that the crowd can sit ...

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