Thursday 15 October 2020

Whitehead, Colson "The Nickel Boys"

Whitehead, Colson "The Nickel Boys" - 2019

After having read his first Pulitzer Prize win "Underground Railroad", I was thrilled to hear that Colson Whitehead received this award for the second time. Deservedly, very deservedly.

Since I really enjoyed his last book, I knew I'd have to read this one, as well. It certainly was worth it. This is not only a story of a young black boy growing up in the sixties or a book about what happens to young delinquents when they get caught. No, this is the story about how you have no chance in life if you are born with the wrong colour. You get condemned for something you have not done and from there on it goes downhill. And nobody will help you to get up again.

I have read a lot of books about racism (see in my list "Anti-Racism") and prejudices and a lot of time you can experience what those who are condemned suffer. But Colin Whitehead has made it a lot clearer, almost as if you are in Elwood Curtis' position yourself. The details are so well written, you are there with the protagonist.

The judges called the novel "a spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption." Well said, very precise. Such a painful account of the life so many people still have to endure

A deep story that will leave nobody who has read it.

Colson Whitehead received the Pulitzer Prize for "The Nickel Boys" in 2020. He is one of only four recipients who were awarded the prize twice.

From the back cover:

"Elwood Curtis knows he is as good as anyone - growing up in 1960s Florida, he has taken the words of Dr Martin Luther King to heart. He is about to enrol in the local black college, determined to make something of himself.  But given the time and the place, one innocent mistake is all it takes to destroy his future.  Instead of embarking on a college education, Elwood arrive at the Nickel Academy, a segregated reform school claiming to provide an education which will equip its inmates to become 'honourable and honest men'.

In reality, the Nickel Academy is a nightmarish upside-down world, where any boy who resists the corrupt depravity of the authorities is likely to disappear 'out back'.  Elwood tries to hold on to Dr King's ringing assertion: 'Throw us in jail, and we will still love you.' But Elwood's fellow inmate and new friend Turner thinks Elwood naïve and worse; the world is crooked, and the only way to survive is to emulate the cruelty and cynicism of their oppressors.

When Elwood's idealism and Turner's scepticism collide, the result has decades-long repercussions. 
The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven novel by a great American writer whose clear-sighted and humane storytelling continues to illuminate our current reality."


  1. Great review of a truly great novel!

    1. Thank you. Yes, it is a fantastic one. Everyone should read it.

  2. Powerful review - and book. Cheers

    1. Definitely. Very powerful. As I said to Judy ^^, I believe everyone should read this.