Reviews of Stories from the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana

Stories from the Tenants Downstairs

by Sidik Fofana

Stories from the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana X
Stories from the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana
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  • Published:
    Aug 2022, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

Set in a Harlem high rise, a stunning debut about a tight-knit cast of characters grappling with their own personal challenges while the forces of gentrification threaten to upend life as they know it.

Like Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place and Lin Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, Sidik Fofana's electrifying collection of eight interconnected stories showcases the strengths, struggles, and hopes of one residential community in a powerful storytelling experience.

Each short story follows a tenant in the Banneker Homes, a low-income high rise in Harlem where gentrification weighs on everyone's mind. There is Swan in apartment 6B, whose excitement about his friend's release from prison jeopardizes the life he's been trying to lead. Mimi, in apartment 14D, who hustles to raise the child she had with Swan, waitressing at Roscoe's and doing hair on the side. And Quanneisha B. Miles, a former gymnast with a good education who wishes she could leave Banneker for good, but can't seem to escape the building's gravitational pull. We root for these characters and more as they weave in and out of each other's lives, endeavoring to escape from their pasts and blaze new paths forward for themselves and the people they love.

Stories from the Tenants Downstairs brilliantly captures the joy and pain of the human experience and heralds the arrival of a uniquely talented writer.

An excerpt is available at electricliterature.com.


Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In "Rent Manual," Mimi keeps a running tally of her finances as she goes from gig to gig to make rent. Why might the author have chosen to begin the collection with Mimi's story? What are some themes that are introduced here, that will recur throughout the book?
  2. Consider the sequence at the end of "Rent Manual," when Mimi and Fortune go to the grocery store across town to buy diapers. During this scene, Mimi recalls a time when her mother was made to feel out of place at a similar grocery store. How (if at all) do you think this memory influenced the decision she makes at the very end of the chapter? Based on what you've read, how do you understand Mimi's relationship with her mother?
  3. Open your book to "The Okiedoke," and read from the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Though the lives of these tenants are filled with difficulties — unemployment, dead or absent parents, three people living in a one-bedroom apartment, no tangible prospects for the future — they are not miserable. Their optimism and sheer joy shine through in their picaresque antics. Lively language; feisty characters that might remind you of your own relatives, former classmates, or neighbors; sharp, varied plots; and timely themes: this was a pure pleasure to read. It's a stellar debut from a very talented writer. Fofana should win all the prizes...continued

Full Review (707 words).

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(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

The Boston Globe
Fofana's debut is impressive — his characters exude life and the different voices stay with the reader long after the book has been shelved.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune
Fofana deftly steers away from stereotypes and into the psychological interior of each character's life. And he does this so powerfully through voice. Each story in the collection is a lesson in how language defines character — and, therefore, reality.

The New York Times Book Review
Outstanding… Stories From the Tenants Downstairs masterfully paints a portrait of the people most impacted by gentrification

The Wall Street Journal
A standout achievement... American speech is an underused commodity in contemporary fiction and it's a joy to find such a vital example of it here.

Shelf Awareness
Fofana shows an ear for pacing and for evocative, frequently musical language...A striking voice, and his protagonists will linger in readers' imaginations.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Those willing to use their ears more than their eyes to read along will find a rich, ribald, and engagingly funny vein of verbal music, as up-to-the-minute as hip-hop, but as rooted in human verities as Elizabethan dialogue. The publisher compares this book to Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place and Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights. One could also invoke James Joyce's Dubliners in the stories' collective and multilayered evocation of place, time, and people.

Library Journal (starred review)
The portraits are conveyed in tight-woven, propulsive, rhythmically rich vernacular...A singular accomplishment from a writer to watch.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The residents of a low-income high-rise apartment building in Harlem form the beating heart of Fofana's dynamic debut collection...These engrossing and gritty stories of tenuous living in a gentrifying America enchant.

Author Blurb Ben Fountain, author of Beautiful Country Burn Again
Every once in a while a new writer comes along and refreshes our notions of what fiction can do. Sidik Fofana is one of those rare and wonderful writers, and what he does with these stories, and with our beautiful, bottomless American language, is nothing short of revelatory. Buy this book, and prepare to be blasted by the brilliance inside.

Author Blurb Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
Sidik Fofana's timely collection is full of tenderness and truth. With it, he has given us a beautiful blueprint for the gentrification story: let it be bold, let it honor the complexities of those who are struggling to hold on. These stories are at once intimate and familiar, and utterly original. I braced myself, I laughed, and I shuddered. The voices of the residents of Banneker Terrace linger and echo long after the last page. A tremendous debut!

Author Blurb Lorrie Moore, author of Bark
Sidik Fofana's Stories from the Tenants Downstairs is the book I've been waiting for ever since reading the first few of Mr. Fofana's stories eight years ago. I had never read anything quite like them. They have brilliant architecture that can go unnoticed beneath the carefully textured voices...Mr. Fofana has an acute ear and a perfect eye, and he doesn't rush. This is important American art.

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Beyond the Book

Rent Control in New York City

Brownstone buildings in New York CityIn Sidik Fofana's Stories from the Tenants Downstairs, gentrification and rent rises pose a threat to the struggling characters living in an apartment building in Harlem. New York City and some neighboring suburban counties operate rent control and/or rent stabilization policies.

Rent control is rare, only applying to about 16,000 residential properties that were constructed before 1947 and have been occupied since 1971. These are remnants of a mid-20th-century drive to ensure affordable housing for the working class in American cities, spearheaded by NYC after the end of relevant federal regulations. The maximum base rent is adjusted every two years to take operating costs into account but cannot be raised beyond that amount. Tenants ...

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