Book of the Week: Welcome to Braggsville – T. Geronimo Johnson

Johnson’s second book is a bracing, jazzy satiric riff on race, class and American culture. The bare bones of the story suggest a provocative plot: a quartet of Berkeley undergrads returns to Georgia home of one of their members to take part in a Civil War reenactment—and what they intend to reenact is a lynching.

But reviewing this purely on its plot leaves out the joy of the book. Johnson’s writing is like some prose version of bebop poetry, mixing high and low, academia and Southern Gothic, hip hop and American history, backyard barbecues and  Battlestar Galactica.

His previous book was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award and this one is a March Indie Next Pick. He’ll be interviewed on NPR’s Weekend Edition on February 14th and the book is already scheduled for review in Garden & Gun, Atlantic, New Yorker, Washington Post, the AP and NPR. Huffington Post included it in its “2015 Books We Can’t Wait to Read.”

[A] radical book in every sense of the word—thoroughgoing and extreme, ghastly and funny and gloriously provocative, a gauntlet thrown. And an inherent challenge to anyone who thinks they know the conventions of the American bildungsroman, or of a contemporary ‘race and identity’ novel… Johnson’s prose is by turns scathing dark humor, soaring lyricism, and a quietly devastating analysis of every species of injustice. The result is a kind of mind-melting poetry—a linguistic electroconvulsive therapy for the reader. This book will wake you up! Welcome to Braggsville toggles brilliantly between tragedy and comedy and never lets the reader off the hook.”
— Karen Russell

“In his second novel, Johnson delivers a funny and tragic coming-of-age story that spares no one its satirical eye…. Johnson’s prose has a sketched-out and dreamlike quality, a private shorthand that adds to the feeling of intimacy, an apt trick when dealing with subject matter like race and class.”
Publishers Weekly

“A rollicking satire . . . Radical, hilarious, tragic, and all too relevant.”
   — O, The Oprah Magazine

“In exuberant prose, Johnson takes aim at a host of issues, gleefully satirizing political opportunists, social media, and cultural mores. . . . a provocative exploration of contemporary America that is likely to be a hit with adventurous readers.”
   — Booklist

Welcome to Braggsville is a novel that will stay with me for a long time, not only because of its stunning, shocking and heartbreaking story but also because of the incredible and provocative ways the author plays with …. [Four friends] go to Georgia to protest what they see as inappropriate nostalgia. But something goes terribly wrong. As D’aron tries to understand his and his friends’ responsibility in the events, the reader rides a rollercoaster of emotions, from amusement to laughter to consternation and horror. This is a captivating and unforgettable exploration of contemporary themes such as race, culture, politics, social media and many more. Don’t miss it.”
— Pierre Camy, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, MI

“Four college students’ attempt to protest Southern folkways goes awry in a novel that blurs the line between academic satire and social realism . . . A rambunctious, irreverent yet still serious study of the long reach of American institutional racism.”
   — Kirkus Reviews

“Johnson’s observations about race are both piercing and witty, making this edgy novel so much more complex than a send-up of the South and liberal academe. . . . those with a love for linguistic romps will want to take on this literary dark comedy.”
   — Library Journal

Welcome to Brazzaville (9780062302120) by T. Geronimo Johnson. $25.99 hardcover. 2/17/15 on sale.

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