Reviews in 200 Words

Brown by Richard Rodriguez

In Nonfiction on December 19, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Brown is a study. It is less of a narrative than it is an image of refracted light, an examination of angles. Not to offend Rodriguez—associating him immediately with an artistic movement pioneered by a Spaniard may concern the author. This concern stems from the tendency, which he argues is particularly American, to evaluate and categorize people by race and color. Brown champions a refreshingly poetic approach to conservative values of individualism and liberty—a kind of thoughtfulness that may disorient rather than provoke those of a more liberal compulsion. Rodriguez’s writing can be acrobatic, and his mind can wander from Toqueville to Nixon, Lucille Ball to Castro, Ralph Lauren to Thoreau, capturing their significance pertaining to the American discussion on race. Do Hispanics exist? The answer is more complex than you might imagine, and it is just this uncertainty, this ambivalence, this mixture of feeling to which the book’s title playfully alludes. This is fine writing, and the author has his experience to thank, whether the memories are of a trip to his blonde friend’s affluent prep school or simply standing in line for a burrito in a Chinese neighborhood. This slipperiness of identity is the point: you can’t pin him down.

-Chris Noel


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