An African American Breakfast at Tiffany’s–a hip, refreshingly candid tale of identity and self—discovery from the critically acclaimed author of The View from Here and Walking Through Mirrors.
Mason Randolph, a black preppie of impeccable Southern pedigree, is bound for Stanford Law School after graduating from college. Before embarking on the path to his golden future, however, he takes a detour through Harlem, where he intends to live "authentically" with "real black people."
Mason takes the name "Malik" and moves into the orbit of the ever—fabulous Carmen, uptown diva and doyenne of Harlem. Carmen, always ready to have a handsome young man at her fabulous soirees and to add to her devoted entourage, happily takes him under her wing. Fueled by his parents' money and dodging the people who remember him as Mason Randolph, "Malik" masquerades as a "ghettonian," exploring the wonders and pleasures of a Harlem in the midst of a second Renaissance. But his odyssey takes a different turn when he meets Kyra, whose world mirrors the one he has abandoned. As he contemplates the choices Kyra has made, and begins to reexamine his own presumptions about identity and authenticity, Mason realizes that everyone has something to hide and that to get what we want, we have to be willing to let go of our secrets.
People compared Brian Keith Jackson's remarkable first novel, The View from Here, to the works of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, and Publishers Weekly called it "an extraordinary debut...[by] a formidable craftsman and exceptionally gifted storyteller." A novel rich in humor and insight, The Queen of Harlem will earn Jackson a much—deserved place in the center of today’s literary landscape.
Jackson's latest novel is the story of a young man who retreats from wealth and privilege in order to discover his true self. As an African-American raised in mostly white Southern suburbs, Mason feels out of place surrounded by people his own color. Determined to change that, he rebaptizes himself Malik and adopts a new persona in an attempt to experience "real" black culture. He moves to Harlem, lies about waiting tables while living off a generous allowance, engages in unsophisticated philosophizing and absorbs life lessons from Carmen England, an enigmatic society diva who seems to be something of a fabrication herself. Of course, Mason's duplicity leads to complications he never anticipated, and he realizes that he cannot be himself while playing at being someone else. But Mason's original motivation is never explored in any depth, and his abandonment of his false identity has more to do with winning an affluent young woman than with any new wisdom or contrition. Discovering one's true self by experimenting with an invented self is not a new idea; Jackson's innovation is to take his protagonist to Harlem, but setting alone is not enough to carry a novel. Mason resides in Harlem, but he never really lives there. The representation of this rich, storied neighborhood is no more enlightening than the view out-of-towners have from a tour bus. Jackson was widely praised for the honesty and emotion of The View from Here and Walking Through Mirrors. Perhaps those qualities will make a comeback in his next novel.