Black Boy 1945; The Outsider 1953 by Richard Wright
I read these books one after another compiled in my single hardback Library of America volume. They were fantastic books, the sort that you are living in the whole time you are reading, that take over your life.
The first is a biography, but reads like a novel. What a life he had. The second is very much a novel, a fascinating story of an amoral man, Dostoevskyan in its compass. You will learn a lot about America in these books, but like all good books both are studies of 'the human condition' and of relevance to us all. Here is just one quote from the first book:
"Whenever I thought of the essential bleakness of black life in America, I knew that Negroes had never been allowed to catch the full spirit of Western civilization, that they lived somehow in it but not of it. And when I brooded upon the cultural barrenness of black life, I wondered if clean, positive tenderness, love, honor, loyalty and the capacity to remember were native with man. I asked myself if these human qualities were not fostered, won, struggled and suffered for, preserved in ritual from one generation to another." (p37 Black Boy)
I followed the biography with its known characters to Wright's novel. The first four pages were slow but then, we are right into the story, an amazing one, such a good one I can read it with people talking around me, stuck on a train, in a cafe, I am lost in the story. The idea, someone who invents a new personality – think about it, starting anew as a mature person. What would that do to you, to your morals ...