Due to a sudden, unexpected passing in the family a few years ago and another more recently and my subsequent (mental) health issues stemming from that, I was unable to download this book in time to review it before it was archived as I did not visit this site for several years after the bereavements. This meant I didn't read or venture onto netgalley for years as not only did it remind me of that person as they shared my passion for reading, but I also struggled to maintain interest in anything due to overwhelming depression. I was therefore unable to download this title in time and so I couldn't give a review as it wasn't successfully acquired before it was archived. The second issue that has happened with some of my other books is that I had them downloaded to one particular device and said device is now defunct, so I have no access to those books anymore, sadly.
This means I can't leave an accurate reflection of my feelings towards the book as I am unable to read it now and so I am leaving a message of explanation instead. I am now back to reading and reviewing full time as once considerable time had passed I have found that books have been helping me significantly in terms of my mindset and mental health - this was after having no interest in anything for quite a number of years after the passings. Anything requested and approved will be read and a review written and posted to Amazon (where I am a Hall of Famer & Top Reviewer), Goodreads (where I have several thousand friends and the same amount who follow my reviews) and Waterstones (or Barnes & Noble if the publisher is American based). Thank you for the opportunity and apologies for the inconvenience.
I was judging the L.A. Times 2020 and 2021 fiction contest. It’d be generous to call what I’d been doing upon my first cursory glance—reading. I also don’t take this task lightly. As a fellow writer and lover of words and books, I took this position—in hopes of being a good literary citizen. My heart aches for all the writers who have a debut at this time. What I can share now is the thing that held my attention and got me to read on even though it was among 296 other books I’m charged to read.
Richard Wright is obviously a legend and I’m very excited to read the origin story of Native Son.
This is a recently published piece of work from literary great Richard Wright who originally wrote this story back in the 1940’s. The Man Who Lived Underground is a brutal tale about hardworking and father-to-be, Fred Daniels. He is a black man who works for a rich lady and after leaving work one day is picked up by the police for questioning about the murdered couple next door. The police are barbaric in their desire to get Fred to confess which he eventually does but he manages to escape soon after. To find safety Fred begins living in the sewers under the streets of Chicago.
This book illuminates the harsh reality of what life was like for Black men back in the 40’s and disgustingly, is still true in many ways today. Wright really plays around with his storytelling and shows the reader different snippets of life from what he witness underneath. It is a scorching tale on police corruption and society, which as we are all well aware, hasn’t changed much in the 80 years since this story was written.
Wright is also brilliantly plays around with our perception of reality. Did Fred escape or was he let go? Is he really experiencing everything he is telling us down there or is it in his imagination? And the ending was so unexpected and had me on the edge of my seat. I wish we could have had more at the end but it’s also a novella so I understand that it can’t delve too deeply into everything.
Also, I would be remiss to not mention the magnificent essay that follows this story that Wright wrote about the influences he had when writing The Man Who Lived Underground. I enjoyed his writing during the story but the essay part really blew me away. It was incredibly engaging and I didn’t want it to end. There is no doubt that Wright was a phenomenal writer and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading some of his more famous work.
Richard Wright is a literary genius. I am humbled to have this chance to review the book. This allegorical tale brought up so any emotions. It blew me away. I had to put it down and come back. It is not easy but it is so important. As you can see, I cannot adequately express what this book was to me. I hope you read it.
Richard Wright was one of the twentieth century's crop of Great American Storytellers, a writer whose entire life of creation was a gift to a country that did not deserve his passionate voice calling into the face of its indifference that <I>we can be better, do better, and must in order to survive.</i>
People my age were required to read <I>Native Son</i> in high school English, and I am so very glad we were. I wouldn't have picked up the book any other way. It needed to be shoved on me. And wonder of wonders, the Austin (Texas) Independent School District of the early 1970s did. It was a tough thing to let myself believe, that people simply but sincerely <B>hated</b> for no better reason than someone was a different skin color than they were. I assumed all those yahoos were just performing their snotty, hateful idiocy like they did their fake homophobia; it seemed to me that racism against Black and Hispanic students was the same. Anything to look cool, after all, and these were teenagers whose ideas of Cool were neither self-reflective nor rebellious enough to have progressed from the 1950s their own parents were stuck in.
Then we read the equally astounding true-crime (I call racism a crime and am not likely to stop doing so) <I>Black Like Me</i>, an account of a white man passing as Black in the Jim Crow South. It too was gut-wrenching, but was different in kind than the novel <I>Native Son</i>. A factual report...well, I am quite sure that my own racism got hard, hard knocks that year. (I am fully aware that I'm complicit in racist society, that in no way am I "not a racist" just because I support Black political candidates and so on.) It's a pity we couldn't have read <I>this</i> jaw-dropping, intense, visceral evocation of the Other as refiner and perfecter of his Othering. It is the apotheosis of Otherness and Othering that this intense story tells its readers.
Anyone who's paid me any attention knows that I can be run off from continuing a read by child abuse, by use of the n-word, by cruelty to animals...the list goes on...and not a few unfriendlies are smirking in anticipation of taxing me with this book's abusive, rage-filled, n-word-bombing ethos...how can I give this five stars and still abandon ship with content warnings in other, arguably less offensive cases? Because Richard Wright never does a single thing to make the awfulness of PoV character Fred Daniels's world sensational. The author isn't kidding around, bedizening a story with nastiness to provoke a response. He is telling a story about how Othering a man will, over time, after many small and large blows and much deliberate infliction of every kind of pain, turn him in to the thing that he was not, did not want to be, and could not bear to know that he now was.
It worked, in its honesty and its clarity of purpose. I left the sewer Fred lived in without regret, without revulsion, and with the most horrified, profound acceptance of Fred as he was abused and neglected into being. Acceptance of his re-creation, transformation.
In the inexcusably hate-filled twenty-first century, we are fighting the battle that Fred lost all over again. There are wins...the conviction of Ahmaud Arbery's murderers...there are defeats, the gerrymandering cases standing out to me as disasters to Black people...but the trend is towards, as it ever was, the endless and pointless perpetuation of hate based on stupidity among the haters and truculence among the hated.
Books like this are strong medicine against both ends of the spectrum. Fred, a victim, sees what the System does to people, and ultimately still surrenders to it. Not to fight against the dehumanizing and brutalizing actions and inactions of the system that allows Fred to exist in the literal sewers is to acquiesce in the process of creating more Freds...and that is a moral wrong and a societal tragedy. Author Wright doesn't allow his readers the luxury of redemption. This book remained unpublished for seventy years because it is the most hopeless document of degradation's triumph I've ever read. White people of the 1940s would've been offended by the clear-eyed assertion of police violence as it happened...nowadays that illusion is gone...but they wouldn't have wanted to read about a good man surrendering his humanity regardless of that knee-jerk response. The accusing fingers pointing back at them as they called out Author Wright for his bleak treatment of Fred (theirs was the system he succumbed to, after all) were simply too on-the-nose.
There is an extended essay included with the novel entitled “Memories of My Grandmother” that enables our appalled eyes to see where so much of the story we've just read originated. The fact that Christian religion played such a big role in Wright's formation into a man capable of the kind of wordsmithing he does isn't a big surprise. I'm very grateful that the author's daughter required the essay to be published within the book containing the novel...it's a long piece and, even if you're on the fence about reading the novel, I hope you'll consider procuring it to read the essay alone. It is a marvelous explication of how each generation forms the next, for good and ill.
What Author Wright isn't, in the writing of this story, is subtle. The metaphors defining it simply aren't debatable: Whites own the sunshine and consign the Blacks to the literal sewers to eke out whatever existences they can. A Black man who's innocent of any crime is shoved into the sewer with the rest of the leavings because he's never had a place in the sunshine that was truly his. As he copes increasingly poorly with the sewers, he's not allowed to leave them; he's run away from the white police, deprived them of their fun of torturing and eventually killing him, so they say "stay there and die."
The author doesn't, then, offer Redemption to either side. It's a very uncharitable and un-Christian thing to withhold. But he's got a reason, does Author Wright: "Chickens come home to roost, don’t they?" his daughter quotes him as saying.
They very much do. The perch they roost on is, in this rare and exquisitely painful read, your complicit soul.
I couldn't get into this book at all. I made several attempts but couldn't force myself to continue. Thank you Netgalley for the opportunity but this was not for me.
Heartbreaking. This book made me upset. I cried at times for how this man was treated and how he had to live to remain "free." While this book was short, it was powerful.
this was a beautifully done book, I enjoyed getting to know the history of the book. The story was so well written and the characters were great.
5 stars for the novella "The Man Who Lived Underground", 3 stars for the accompanying essay bound up with this.
<i>The Man Who Lived Underground</i> was so good. This reminded me of all the things I loved about Richard Wright's <i>Native Son</i> yet followed an entirely different protagonist and plot. This is a newly published novel from literary legend Richard Wright (1908-1960). This newly published work follows a man falsely accused of murder who is tortured into a confession. He escapes his confinement and hides in the sewers below the city in the labyrinthine caves and tunnels, observing establishments and people through the walls. This is unsettling, scary, dark. But it has such a dreamy quality to it too. He imagines so much of what is happening beyond what he sees. What's happening on the surface and what's happening beyond his peeping into businesses. He is a philosopher, a dreamer. He thinks independently of ideas dreamt up by the likes of Plato.
This is something that Richard Wright does masterfully. He creates complex characters. He creates controversial characters that expose our biases and expose the violence of white supremacy. Fred Daniels, aboveground, is an innocent man who loves his wife and fulfills his "obligations to society." As he is underground, he takes on the lifestyle and actions of a criminal. He becomes what he was beaten into falsely confessing to be. He either reverts or evolves. He creeps into stores and steals, not for financial gain but to disrupt capitalism and systemic oppression. He is part of something bigger, no longer a pawn or powerless agent. He sees his oppression laid out on a slab. He sees white people's greed and power.
This novella is masterful in its control of a sophisticated, intricate story in so few pages. It's tight, neat, and powerful. It's been weeks since I finished this and it's stuck with me. Fred, like Bigger, lives in my mind.
<b>content warnings</b> for: mentions of pregnancy, childbirth, etc., arrest, police brutality, false accusations, interrogation involving leading questions and torture, near death experiences, murder, brief mention of rape.
Richard Wright is a legend of African American literature. Black Boy and Native Son are important works. Unfortunately this one didn't catch me in the same way. It felt too drawn out, the scenes took too long to move along.
Wow. Hands down some of the most eloquent and succinct writing that I have encountered. Richard Wright truly had a gift in placing you in the mindset and setting of the story. This is pieced together from surviving manuscripts of Richard Wright's work which was never published and was instead condensed into a short story and released to the public. It follows Fred Daniels, a black man who is accused of a murder he did not commit as he escapes the brutality of police to end up in the sewers during his escape. Fred finds a kind of nirvana as he uncovers the 'truth' of what humans need to do to reach enlightenment. A great allegorical story that also highlights police brutality, excessive capitalism, and American racism. Highly recommend.
African American Fred Daniels has just finished his job in a white neighbourhood when he is stopped by the police and accused of a horrendous double murder which occurred right next door. Daniels is aware of the odds of a Black man being found ‘not guilty’ by an all-white jury or, for that matter, living long enough to make it to trial so he finally claims guilt after being tortured. When the cops take him to visit his wife in the hospital after she gives birth to their child, not out of compassion but to make him suffer even more, he takes the opportunity to escape. He disappears into the sewer system from which he begins a new life underground.
The Man Who Lived Underground was written by Richard Wright in the ‘40s but was reduced to a short story by his publishers who refused to publish it in this, it’s original form. This is not an easy read or at least not for me. The two word that seemed best to sum up my reaction to it were shocking and disturbing perhaps in most part because, despite its age, this story still very much relevant to today. A brilliant and important addition to Richard Wright’s lexicon.
<i>Thanks to Netgalley and Library of America for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review</i>
A stunning work whose brilliance is brought to the fore by the essay following it, which brought to light certain connections and influences that I had missed the first go-around but seem so obvious in retrospect. Certain character actions and sequences that perplexed me during my initial read were far more understandable. 4 stars for the first read-through, 5 for the second.
I'm so grateful that even after Richard Wright's passing, we were afforded the chance to read this stunning novel. Native Son is a must-read, and after reading The Man Who Lived Underground, it is clear that Richard Wright is someone who we lost far too soon.
This is my second read from Richard Wright. I absolutely loved Native Son, and I enjoyed The Man Who Lived Underground because it presents quite a similar dilemma to Native Son. The protagonist, under the weight of racism and white supremacy, finds himself committing crime. The story itself is absurd yet so realistic, as we see into the mind of the protagonist and understand just how far racism can push one mentally. Like Native Son, this book is heart breaking but also presents a tonne to think about on the Black condition, particularly in America.
Fred Daniels leaves his place of employment, pocketing his weekly pay, and is immediately surrounded by policemen and detectives. He is taken to the station, where he is tortured and abused into signing a false confession for committing the murder of his employer's neighbor. In an inexplicable move, the detectives take him to see his pregnant wife, who goes into labor. The whole entourage goes to the hospital, where Fred, still dazed from the assault, contrives an escape and disappears.
Daniels lowers himself into the city sewer system. There he finds a subterranean world that is not only rife with it's own horrors, but is also a safe haven and an unexpected window to many parts of the city. Listening through the walls to a black church chorus, he falls into a kind of trance, taking risks and committing crimes he would never have considered in his former life.
Eventually, he is driven by his own guilt and his hope to confess to his new crimes to the same men who had criminally extracted his false one.
The Man Who Lived Underground reveals a side of Wright's fiction not seen in Native Son. Whereas most readers will have seen his Bigger Thomas, and the systemic causation of his crimes, TMWLU recasts this story with Fred Daniels, an innocent indicted by the institutional racism and outright corruption of the police, and elicits an equally outrageous conclusion.
A powerful read, and highly recommended.
This is an unpublished novel of the author from the 1940s, which originally had to be made into a short story to get published then. It deals with the African American Fred who is falsly accused of murder and brutally mistreated by the police. When he flees into the sewers he experiences things he doesn´t want to see and decides to return.
I had difficulties to depict the underground and how Fred discovers the various rooms he partly also visits, which seemed fantastic to me. While doing this, he also becomes guilty. The essay by the author after this novel explains the symbolism and his own experiences. I can imagine that this story would work better as a short story, but appreciated the various themes and the excitement that´s built by the language.
Thanks to Libary of America and Netgalley for an ARC ebook in exchange for an honest review.
When I was in graduate school, I read “The Man Who Lived Underground” as it was published in author Wright’s posthumous collection, “Eight Men.” In that collection, the work had been “drastically condensed and truncated.” I thought highly of it then but knowing that it wasn’t the complete work left me unsatisfied.
Now, the complete work, the one that Wright was unable to publish in his lifetime, has landed on bookshelves. This work meant more to him than any of his other publications: “I have never written anything in my life that stemmed more from sheer inspiration.”
The story is heartbreakingly simple. It’s 1941-42. Fred Daniels, a Black man, is on his way home after collecting his week’s wages (a whopping seventeen dollars!) to his wife who is due to give birth any time. As he walks along, happy with his place in the world, he notices a police car with three police officers, just sitting there. As he approaches the police exit the car and arrest him for the horrifically vicious double murder that occurred at the neighbors of his employer’s home. Although he proclaims his innocence, his words fall on deaf ears. The cops need a perpetrator. and Fred is their man. The police haul him to the station and torture him until he signs a confession. Case closed.
However, Fred is able to escape (or was he allowed, I was never really sure) and heads for the sewers beneath the Chicago streets. There he traverses the systems. As Fred wandered, he was able to view other lives by removing some of the bricks that led into basements. There he gathers some food, robbed a bank from which he plastered the money to the walls of the main tunnel, heard a church choir sign, etc.
The novel is more of stream of consciousness than I like, but what stood out to me the most, that eighty years later, not much has changed for the African Americans. They are still the first ones suspected of a crime.
The work also contains the essay, “Memories of my Grandmother,” which a companion to Fred’s story. I didn’t care for it. To me, it didn’t have that immediacy of Underground. “The Man Who Lived Underground” receives 4 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.
This is a previously unpublished novel by literary great Richard Wright. In its original publication it was a short story. Here it is presented alongside Wright's thoughts on his upbringing, religion and influences.
Fred Daniels is an honest upright man. He is a husband and soon-to-be father. Then one day he is rustled up by the cops and accused of a crime he did not commit. He is beaten, brutalized and forced to sign a confession. When he sees his chance he escapes and runs underground. Down in the darkness he is able to see more as a man apart from the world.
The Man Who Lived Underground has so many parallels with today's world. The section that follows - "Memories From My Grandmother" - gives us insight into his writing process. Why certain characters were chosen and the symbolism behind some of the events in the book. I am always thrilled to get a peek inside a writer's mind but this one had special meaning. I thought I knew all of what Wright was getting at. But my perception was limited to my experience. Learning about Richard Wright's early life and belief systems gives you another lens in which to view the book. I would highly recommend that readers take time to delve into this essay and reread the book from Wright's perspective.
I enjoyed this book. Haven't read anything by Richard Wright since school, but remember fondly. It was nice to read something new. Well developed characters and good pacing. Short novel, but it definitely worked. #TheManWhoLivedUndergroundLibraryofAmericaRichardWright #NetGalley