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Jean Toomer: Cane

So this isn’t a novel but, as it is the twentieth century, we can extend the definition of a novel. What it is, is a series of interlinked stories and poems set in an area of Georgia, populated mainly by blacks. Toomer is a poet and the stories he tell us are told as a poet – whether it is the story of the precocious young girl who all the men lust after or whether it is the brutal lynching. Though Toomer was to later pass himself off as white, these stories and poems are clearly told from the point of view of the blacks, to show their beauty and their dignity but also the hard and often brutal way of life they had to endure. My favourite is Kabnis – about the black professor hounded out of his community for being too forthright, probably because it is the longest (some thirty-five pages) – but all the stories and poems show a major writer at work and deserve their reputation.

Publishing history

First published 1923 by Boni and Liveright