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William Melvin Kelley: Dunford’s Travels Everywheres

An African-American reads James Joyce might be an easy way to describe this novel, as Kelley takes us on a strange trip, playing Joycean linguistic games along the way. The first part takes place in an unnamed European country, which smells a bit like France and where the natives speak a variation of Esperanto. The country has apartheid but based not on skin colour but on the colour of the clothes you happen to have chosen to wear that morning (and you can’t change till the next day). In other words, apartheid is arbitrary. Chig Dunford is an African-American in the middle of this. The second part of the book abruptly switches tone, with the story of Chig’s return to the US by ocean liner (where he finds chained African slaves being transported) intermingled with a story of a dentist persuading Carlyle Bedlow to seduce his (the dentist’s) wife so that he (the dentist) can dump his wife, pay her less alimony and run off with his assistant, Maria. Not only do the stories change so does the language, varying from conventional English to African-American dialect to Joycean language. An interesting way to point out how racism is taken for granted and ignored.

Publishing history

First published 1970 by Doubleday