The Man Who Lived Underground: A Novel
by Richard Wright
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Pub Date 20 Apr 2021 | Archive Date 30 Jun 2021
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STEPH CURRY'S "UNDERRRATED" BOOK CLUB PICK
A major literary event: an explosive, previously unpublished novel about race and police violence by the legendary author of Native Son and Black Boy
Fred Daniels, a Black man, is picked up by the police after a brutal double murder and tortured until he confesses to a crime he did not commit. After signing a confession, he escapes from custody and flees into the city’s sewer system.
This is the devastating premise of this scorching novel, a masterpiece that Richard Wright was unable to publish in his lifetime. Written between his landmark books Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945), at the height of his creative powers, it would eventually see publication only in drastically condensed and truncated form in the posthumous collection Eight Men (1961).
Now, for the first time, by special arrangement with the author's estate, the full text of this incendiary novel about race and violence in America, the work that meant more to Wright than any other (“I have never written anything in my life that stemmed more from sheer inspiration”), is published in the form that he intended, complete with his companion essay, “Memories of My Grandmother.” Malcolm Wright, the author’s grandson, contributes an afterword.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 43 members
The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright is the first publication of the novel that Wright had to cut down into a short story because his publishers would not publish it. As such, this is an important work in rounding out his legacy as well as in understanding his goals in writing.
Wright was not a writer of just one basic voice or style, so while this is different from some of his writing it is also very similar to other works. Though I have read all of his work and lean toward his nonfiction as much as his fiction, I have only taught three of his books and a couple of his stories, and two of the books were nonfiction. I find this book to fit very nicely within his early work.
If you have read the short story of the same name, don't think that this is just a longer version of the same story. This is the original version and the story is one that was chopped up, "compressed," and even had the ending changed. So no, this isn't simply the full "unedited" version, this is the complete version in idea and concept, which is quite different from the story.
I highly recommend this to readers of Wright as well as those interested in both Black writing in the United States and the history of publishing and how it has often avoided the uncomfortable works if that discomfort will be the white readers. The essays (both his and his granddaughter's) are also insightful.
Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
The Man Who Lived Underground is a powerful telling of a man unjustly accused of a crime he did not commit and the aftermath of his recovery from the abuse he endures from law enforcement. The world becomes very confusing for this young man as he discovers a new way of living in the darkness of the underworld. Richard Wright characterizes the main character, Fred Daniels, in a way that has the reader feel deeply for the racial discrimination, physical and emotional abuse, and the hardship Daniel’s endures.
This story has you thinking about humanity long after reading it, wondering and questioning about the vicissitudes of human character and what it means to have freedom, let alone obtain freedom. Wright weaves a meticulous tying in of religion within this fictional narrative, portraying conflicts of character to self and character to the world.
I highly recommend this book and feel it is a must-read.
Richard Wright is my favorite author so when I saw that this book was forthcoming I knew I had to request a prepub edition. Netgalley provided me a copy in exchange for a review.
I read Wright's "Native Son" and was instantly enamored by his writing. I've read all of his fiction and consider his lesser-known works such as "The Long Dream," "Lawd Today!," and "The Outsider" as near perfect novels.
The Man Who Lived Underground was originally published as a short story and included in the "Eight Men" anthology. This is the full, unedited story published for the first time.
It is very classically Wright in content, but the writing style is different. I feel that it still feels unfinished, even though the afterward essay (also penned by Wright) deems it as complete.
I still believe everyone should read this story, but it's not the same Wright that I know.
<i>The Man Who Lived Underground</i> is a fictional novel of a man who escapes one world to live in another. Fred Daniels is a decent family man who suffers through a false accusation, escapes, and then returns to a confusing world. <i>The Man Who Lived Underground</i> was written by the renowned author Richard Wright.
Fred Daniels is coming home from work one night when he's pulled over by three policeman who accuse him of having murdered two people. They beat him all night long and in the morning they to take them to the house where a murder has taken place. They take him home to see his wife. During the visit his wife goes into labour so the police rush Fred and his wife to the hospital. While in the hospital Fred manages to escape and he hides in a sewer. While in the sewer and he is able to observe businesses around town by digging a hole into their basements and observing the people from his hiding place. When he finally leaves the sewer and goes back to the police station he experiences a whole series of unexpected events.
The story is extremely well written. Wright’s descriptions are so true to life that you feel as though you are experiencing the horrific the beatings. His writing evokes strong emotions throughout.
Although this book describes an era when lynching and beatings are widespread, the book is so much more than that. It is not at all what you expect. The story is an allegory which is totally beyond description in this review. Fred Daniel's life underground becomes a major part of the story. His return to life above ground is truly a surprise.
This book is meant for people who like truly different and surprising stories that make you think. I give it a 4 on 5. I want to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a digital copy of this novel. I have provided this honest review voluntarily.
Richard Wright is a profound Black author who writes about what being a Black male is like in an overtly racist society (as seen in Native Son and this text). This text begins with the narrator being falsely accused of murdering a white couple and being beaten into submission by the cops that unjustly arrest him. He escapes police custody, only to find the only safe place to escape to is through a manhole cover and down into the underground bowels of the city.
Wright perfectly captures the horror, the indignation, the fear that the narrator feels as he is falsely accused of murder. I felt the same suspense that the narrator must have felt as he navigated being arrested, escaping, and disappearing underground.
This text deals with themes of race, violence in the form of police brutality, civilized versus savagery, the individual versus society, and visibility (both hypervisibility and invisibility).
A downfall of this book would be the lack of clear description; it was difficult for me to envision the underground setting, especially when the narrator was discovering different rooms. Overall, this lack of description made it difficult for me to stay engrossed in this text because I couldn’t visualize the text and therefore wasn’t as immersed as I could have been.
I would recommend this book to anyone who read and loved his Native Son and to anyone who is interested in the Black experience (and just how little it seems to have changed 70+ years later).
Well worth reading and sharing. Richard Wright's work remains indelible and The Man Who Lived Underground is literary work to dive into and appreciate. Highly recommended.
“The Man Who Lived Underground” is a previously-unpublished novel by famed author Richard Wright (author of Native Son). This short novel was originally rejected for publication seventy years ago and now presented posthumously.
It starts out as a typical story of racial injustice where an African-American man is picked up by the police and blamed for a double murder. Beaten into submission, he signs a confession. But, rather than focus on proving his innocence, Wright takes his novel in an entirely different direction which is what makes it so fascinating.
For this man escapes and hides in the sewers, tunneling into basements. In a split second, he leaves Civilization and exists apart from it. Obviously an allegory for so many things this living underground and living an invisible life. No one knows he’s down there and no one suspects he’s hiding there.
Told from only his point of view, it is a universal tale of how easily society’s bonds are broken and how quickly we can become completely disconnected. And it also becomes an existential story about the meaning of life and how easily it is to separate and leave an unfair world. Looking at things from the outside - in his hidden cave beneath the city, the lead character thinks about what matters and what has meaning. It is thus not the same novel you may have thought you were going to read, yet a case study of what it means to be alive. Written starkly, it is impressive what a skilled writer Wright is.
Richard Wright’s books have a way of sticking with you long after you finish reading them. This was true for me when I read Native Son in college and is also true after I recently read his unpublished novel The Man Who Lived Underground. The novel tells the story of a Black man in his late 20s named Fred Daniels. One day he gets picked up by the police and is accused of murder and armed robbery. Fred tells the police he did not do it but they do not believe him. The officers beat him continuously until he confesses to committing the crime. At his first opportunity, Fred escapes from their custody and hides out in the city’s underground sewer system. While he lives underground, Fred becomes a totally different person. He does things he would not normally do, he becomes the thing that White society fears the most, a Black criminal. But this side of Fred does not last for long, he gets sick of the underground. He sees things he doesn’t want to see, the corruption of society and the system. He feels convicted and wants to return aboveground to report what he saw and turn himself in, but doing so will cost him everything.
The Man Who Lived Underground is a powerful book one that will resonate with modern readers even though it was written in the early 1940s. I love Wright’s writing in this novel, he was so vivid in his descriptions especially his details of the underground world. Wright use of alliteration and anaphoras was exceptional.
This novel could be viewed as a philosophical book since Fred learns some hidden truths while living underground. This notion is confirmed when the reader reads “Memories of My Grandmother” by Wright which is the companion essay to the novel. Wright’s daughter stated that this novel could only be published if the essay was published alongside it. In the essay, the author writes about all of the themes that inspired the novel including: his grandmother’s religious identity, invisibility, the Christ legend, the Negro problem, surrealism, jazz music, and the common theme of being falsely accused of something. It’s a long essay but I think it will be a good supplement to read alongside the novel in English classes. In my opinion most readers can go without reading the essay and let the novel stand for itself but I would only recommend it if the reader wants to get in the author’s head on the origins of novel.
This story sucked me in and it did not let me go! Simply put, it’s a masterpiece.
Thanks to @netgalley and @libraryofamerica for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
Richard Wright's The man who lived underground is a harrowing book about racism, a nightmarish journey into the violent depths of discrimination. It's the sad & painful story of Fred Daniel, a young African American man unjustly accused of a murder he didn't commit. After being forced to sign a confession, he manages to flee and hide underground into the sewer system of the city. At the core of this magnificent novel there is human resilience, the strength of the hunted man, the survival instinct of an innocent man. Through his dismal adventures & brief encounters in the dark urban underworld, we witness first-hand how Fred grows, how he matures and how it comes to accept his fate during his hellish flight until his ultimate death.
It was very difficult for me to walk away from this incredible masterpiece of African American fiction. It shook me to the core and will probably haunt me for quite a long time.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Library of America for the opportunity to read this wonderful novel prior to its release date
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