A darkly compulsive story about records and race, music and murder, from the author of The Impressionist.
Carter and Seth are worlds apart - one a trust fund hipster, the other a suburban nobody - and yet they are united by a love of music. Rising fast on the New York scene, one day they stumble across an old blues song long forgotten by history - and everything starts to unravel. Carter quickly becomes obsessed with the unknown singer, drawn down a path that allows no return, and Seth has no choice but to follow his friend into the darkness.
Trapped in a game he doesn't understand, Seth plays the same cards that have been played before, says the lines exactly as they have always been spoken, acts the old familiar parts as if for the first time. He moves unsteadily across a chessboard of white and black, performer and audience, righteous and forsaken, caught between the man who makes the music and the one who calls the tune. But we have been here before, oh so many times over, and the game always ends the same way . . .
Review by Ilse Scheepers
Carter and Seth are college friends with a mutual obsession with sound. Carter is a rich kid who is always looking for rare vinyl, Seth is the sidekick with a nervous breakdown in his past and a habit of recording everything. Both boys are white, and both fetishise black music for its 'authenticity', seeking out rarer and rarer recordings from the pre-war era in a sickeningly acquisitive fashion.
One day in the park, Seth records something that can't possibly exist. An old black man playing chess sings a line or two of an eerie tune, but when Seth listens back to the recording, he hears a full length song instead. Is he having another breakdown? Or is the old man more than he seems? Either way, the song has a deeply sinister feel. And when Seth plays it to Carter, his rich friend can't stop listening to it.
Taking the extraordinarily foolish decision to release the song online, complete with manufactured record hiss and a made-up name, Seth and Carter soon begin to pay the price for their cultural appropriation. They are contacted by another sound aficionado who claims he knows the singer, Charlie Shaw. But Seth and Carter made up Charlie Shaw. He doesn't exist. Does he?
Things get very Turn of the Screw-y from here... are we reading about a haunting? Or a delusion? One thing is for sure: White Tears has a killer soundtrack.
About the Author
Hari Kunzru is the author of The Impressionist, Transmission and the short story collection Noise, and was named one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists, 2003. He is a contributing editor of Mute magazine and sits on the executive council of English Pen. He lives in East London.
White Tears is a book that everyone should be reading right now * TIME Magazine *
[A] stunning, audacious, urgent thriller, as challenging as it is terrifying, as brave as it is brutal... It will shock you, horrify you, unsettle you, and that's exactly the point. It lets nothing and nobody off the hook * NPR *
Delilloesque -- moody, threatening, and profoundly dark... A story about ghosts, about grievances leaking through the fabric of decades, and about retribution, violence and hatred. At every turn, Kunzru's words concoct a dreamlike world where the past isn't dead and the boundaries of reality flicker at the margins. * Huffington Post *
Haunting, doom-drenched, genuinely and viscerally disturbing... Kunzru showcases his trademark exhilarating prose throughout - closing with a conclusion that packs a real punch * Independent *
Like Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch... A stunning novel of ideas that becomes a page-turning thriller... During Trump's presidency, reading White Tears feels like a necessary and exhilarating act * Stylist *
A disorientating odyssey through decades of American history...Kunzru has always been an assured and intellectually gifted novelist, but I am not sure he has ever before displaying such emotional heft * Daily Telegraph *
Visceral horror, pacey storytelling and razor tautness. White Tears is a state-of-the-nation novel that ties pre-Civil Rights barbarism with a contemporary amnesia that parades as post racial America * Evening Standard *
Graceful [and] exquisitely attuned * Washington Post *
Exquisite... captures a yearning achieved fleetingly in life and more fully in art * i *
At its heart is a serious reminder of how too often history robs the powerless of their voices * Daily Mail *
Think of it as a socially-aware Goosebumps book for grown-ups * Shortlist *
What begins as dude-bro send-up soon spirals into a supernatural revenge fantasy keyed to America's history of racism * Observer *
A captivating satire about race and music * The Week, Novel of the Week *
Both like a radical revenge fantasia and a stern lesson in radical empathy * Spectator *
Kunzru's awareness and discernment have particular value in an America of the moment where nothing less than the country's meaning is at stake... unmoored between the heart that's felt it and the tip of the tongue that awaits the heart's transmission, in search of a promise that's determined to keep itself * The New York Times *
A witty, strange and often very moving book * Financial Times *
Deep themes on the nature of memory, race and authenticity * The Times *
A brave book and often very funny * Sunday Telegraph *
[An] excellent ghost story... A mesmerising tale of white guilt and black oppression in America * Evening Standard *
A nightmarish page-turner... A disorientating odyssey through American history and a lesson in what happens when art is hijacked for less than noble aims * Daily Telegraph *
This rich novel embraces the Deep South, a murder and a wealthy family's dark secret, while riffing on art and authenticity * Mail on Sunday *
Full of verve and rhythm, White Tears cleverly skewers ideas about angst surrounding white appropriation of black music * Financial Times *
A fast-paced, ambitious, hallucinatory mystery * Publishers Weekly *
Marvellous, original and intelligent. Kunzru writes like a master storyteller... There's simply nothing [he] couldn't manage in prose * Literary Review *
Publisher's description. Electrifying, subversive and wildly original, White Tears is a ghost story and a love story, a story about lost innocence and historical guilt. This unmissable novel penetrates the heart of a nation's darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge and exploitation, and holding a mirror up to the true nature of America today. * Penguin *
Compulsively readable, masterly - a tour de force -- Rachel Kushner
Riveting from the very first page, I was completely addicted... A literary thriller and a timely, unsparing excavation of the very real spectre of race in America's past and present. White Tears is proof that Kunzru is one of the finest novelists of his generation... -- Mirza Waheed
Hari Kunzru is an incredibly versatile writer who is alert to the inequalities in the world... Powerful and complex, White Tears is a novel about abuses of wealth and power. Brilliantly orchestrated, unforgettable and devastating -- Bernardine Evaristo
Hari Kunzru is one of our most important novelists * Independent on Sunday *
Kunzru's engagingly wired prose and agile plotting sweep all before them * New Yorker *
Number Of Pages: 288
Published: 20th March 2017
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 23.3 x 15.5 x 2.6
Weight (kg): 0.36
Edition Number: 1