John Womanby Walter Mosley
From the award-winning Walter Mosley comes a dazzling novel of ideas about the sexual and intellectual coming-of-age of an unusual man who goes by the name Woman
A convention-defying novel by bestselling writer Walter Mosley, John Woman recounts the transformation of an unassuming boy named Cornelius Jones into John Woman, an unconventional history professor—while the legacy of a hideous crime lurks in the shadows.
At twelve years old, Cornelius, the son of an Italian-American woman and an older black man from Mississippi named Herman, secretly takes over his father’s job at a silent film theater in New York’s East Village. Five years later, as Herman lives out his last days, he shares his wisdom with his son, explaining that the person who controls the narrative of history controls their own fate. After his father dies and his mother disappears, Cornelius sets about reinventing himself—as Professor John Woman, a man who will spread Herman’s teachings into the classrooms of his unorthodox southwestern university and beyond. But there are other individuals who are attempting to influence the narrative of John Woman, and who might know something about the facts of his hidden past.
Engaging with some of the most provocative ideas of recent intellectual history, John Woman is a compulsively readable, deliciously unexpected novel about the way we tell stories, and whether the stories we tell have the power to change the world.
“When reviewing a book by Walter Mosley, it’s hard not to simply quote all the great lines. There are so many of them. You want to share the pleasures of Mosley’s jazz-inflected dialogue and the moody, descriptive passages reminiscent of Raymond Chandler at his best.”
—Washington Post, on Down the River Unto the Sea
“A daring, beautifully wrought story that incorporates elements of allegory, meditative reflection and the lilt of lyric tragedy. ”—Los Angeles Times, on The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey
“With Mosley, there’s always the surprise factor—a cutting image or a bracing line of dialogue.”—New York Times Book Review, on And Sometimes I Wonder About You
“Mosley’s invigorating, staccato prose and understanding of racial, moral and social subtleties are in full force.”—Seattle Times, on Known to Evil
“[Mosley has] revitalized two genres, the hard-boiled novel and the American behaviorist novel.”—Roberto Bolaño
“Mosley is the Gogol of the African-American working class—the chronicler par excellence of the tragic and the absurd.”—Vibe
“[Mosley] has a special talent for touching upon these sticky questions of evil and responsibility without getting stuck in them.”—New Yorker
One evening Herman stopped his son in the middle of The Confessions of Saint Augustine and said, “This is the power of the world, boy. The memory of an unattainable paradise where everything is predictable and outwardly control-lable. It is all that we are; history, memory. It is what happened, or what we decide on believing has happened. It is yesterday and a million years ago. It is today but still we cannot grasp it.”
“I don’t know what you mean, dad,” Cornelius said. He was sixteen that day but his father, for all his interest in history, did not remember the date. Since he was in his bed almost twenty-four hours a day he had no need for a calendar.
“I mean that the person who controls history controls their fate. The man who can tell you what happened, or did not happen, is lord and master of all he surveys.”
“But if he claims something that isn’t true then he’s master of a lie,” Cornelius reasoned.
Herman smiled and leaned forward. “But,” he said, holding up a lecturing finger, “if everyone believes the lie then he controls a truth that we all as-sent to. There is no true event, Cornelius, only a series of occurrences open to interpretation.”
Though Cornelius did not know it for many years, this was the moment of the birth of John Woman.