The Broken Kingby Michael Thomas
The IMPAC Dublin award-winning author of Man Gone Down – a New York Times Book Review Top Ten Book of The Year – comes an explosive memoir of four generations of black American men in one family.
Reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review and chosen as one of their Top Ten Books of the year before winning the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Man Gone Down introduced a new writer of prodigious and rare talent.
Michael Thomas’s extraordinary new book, The Broken King, traces the lives of the men in his family against the backdrop of the last 140 years in American history. From the Reconstruction era to the Jim Crow South and the Civil Rights movement, Thomas explores fathers and sons, lovers and beloved, trauma and recovery, race and de-racination, success and failure, soccer and the Boston Red Sox in a beautiful, unique memoir.
“If you came at night like a broken king,” asks T. S. Eliot in Little Gidding; and Thomas ponders not only that question, but also the process of being broken. Reminiscent of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Thomas crafts powerful vignettes reaching back to his grandfather, who, though trained as a pharmacist, could never find work as one; his father, the president of his class at Boston University who worked as a clerk at Sears; to his brother’s growing criminal record; and his own sons’ relatively privileged and safe lives in Brooklyn today. Every page rings with the effects of America’s sweeping struggle with race, class, wealth, education, land, and tradition, while offering an intimate look at the creative mind under stress–a brave, meticulous, and sometimes humorous articulation of madness in its guises through the generations.
Thomas’s profound vision of the many forces that shape our lives makes The Broken King a groundbreaking work, both darkly skeptical and genuinely optimistic, on the never-ending pursuit of wholeness and redemption.
“What am I?” I knew the question had been coming.
“You’re many things.” He looked at me in a distant, unknowing way. “You’re the descendant of slave and slave master.” He climbed up to the top bunk and lay atop the covers.
“What are you?”
“The same, sort of.”
“What would you have been, back then?”
“What would I have been?”
He saddened. “Because of you?”
“Because of mom? She’s not a lot of things, is she?” I told him about our lines: the history of the Fowlkes, Allens, Millers and Browns. The Thomases. I told him about Virginia, how my mother had been born not far from the Auld plantation. I told him how Frederick Douglass, in spite of what he went through, married a white woman. I told him that although he was one of our nation’s greatest sons, he spent much of his free life in exile; how a man with a mind like his, freed from the absurd need to argue for his humanity could have done great things; how many people with great minds had forgone what they’d desired or risked what they had so that we could be free. He could be what he wanted, claim both worlds–all worlds–without fear or shame.
“We, all of us, are so much more than our color.” And when I looked to him for a response, or another question–he was asleep.