Book of the Month: Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (2021)
“Born and raised in New York, Whitehead, who lives on the Upper West Side, writes and talks about the city with a native’s mix of affection and exasperation, marveling at its endless contradictions — the grotesque wealth and grinding poverty, the ambition and dereliction, the striving and corruption, the loneliness and misanthropy, the glamour and grime. He finished writing “Harlem Shuffle” during the first few months of the pandemic, when much of the city felt abandoned and hollowed out, silent except for the sirens.
“‘I’m describing a Harlem that’s in decline in the ’50s and ’60s. And now it’s gentrified and revitalized. And that’s the city. It’s always being laid low. By 9/11, by Covid, and we bounce back,’ he said.
“’So the city’s laid low. Everything’s crummy. And then the artists find their muse in the wreckage,’ he continued. ‘If you read the history of New York City in general, there’s fires, there’s yellow plague, wars with Native Americans, wars with the British. City’s on fire. And then it comes back. Then we rebuild. And that vitality, to me, is very lovely to think about.’”