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A Walk in Oakland

One in the Crown Journeys series
Author: Ishmael Reed

Oakland is a blues city, brawling and husky . . .

Often overshadowed by San Francisco, its twinkling sister city across the Bay, Oakland is itself an American wonder. The city is surrounded by and filled with natural beauty—mountains and hills and lakes and a bay—and architecture that mirrors its history as a Spanish mission, Gold Rush outpost, and home of the West’s most devious robber barons. It’s also a city of artists and blue-collar workers, the birthplace of the Black Panthers, neighbor to Berkeley, and home to a vibrant and volatile stew of immigrants and refugees.

In Blues City, Reed takes us on a tour of Oakland, exploring its fascinating history, its beautiful hills and waterfronts, and its odd cultural juxtapositions. He takes us into a year in the life of this amazing city, to black cowboy parades and Indian powwows, to Black Panther reunions and Gay Pride concerts, to a Japanese jazz club where a Lakota musician plays Coltrane’s “Naima.” Reed provides a fascinating tour of an un-tamed, unruly western outpost set against the backdrop of political intrigues, ethnic rivalries, and a gentrification-obsessed mayor, opening our eyes not only to a singular city, but to a newly emerging America.

From Publishers Weekly
Novelist and critic Reed (The Freelance Pallbearers; Mumbo Jumbo) tours historic districts and homes, and attends parades, festivals and performances, to discover the "many worlds within Oakland," a city with "one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the country... [and where] identities are blurred." Reed's treatment is part homage and part rant (mostly against Mayor Jerry Brown and his "elegant density" plan to gentrify the downtown area with hi-tech businesses). The author has reason to be frustrated: "Classical buildings and traditional landmarks are being leveled and replaced by vertical trailer parks that seem to be thrown up overnight"; but some of his comparisons are a bit extreme, as when he likens the dot-com generation to the exploitative 1849 Gold Rushers: "California has never recovered from the damage caused by these earlier invaders... and their treatment of the California natives must rank as one of the cruelest episodes in human history." The book's best parts come from transcribed interviews, such as author Malcolm Margolies's description of a pre-development Lake Merritt and David Hilliard's stirring Black Panther legacy tour. But Reed's own language vacillates from bland ("I attended the annual Black Cowboy parade. Attendance was up over the previous parade") to venomous ("the black upper class is kept out of sight, lest some white Americans lose their self-esteem, whose foundation is the myth of black inferiority, their psychological Prozac"). This slender volume, while filled with facts, dates and a variety of cultural events, doesn't live up to the "husky and brawling" swagger of the city Reed describes.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
$16.95 (hardcover)
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