Bük Kloob: White Tears

Bük Kloob is a series of book reviews loosely related to a book club I started.

Rich people do some fucked up shit to stay rich. Greed, as we know it, can do terrible things to a person. This is no surprise in America where everything has unfortunately become based on money. Souls have been bought and sold on our soil and many like to pretend that this has no bearing on life, that this history happened in a vacuum, that it has no consequence in our contemporary day-to-day.

It’s frustrating. Not that people aren’t aware of this but that the people benefiting from structures of inequality aren’t owning up or facing the facts here. That’s what Hari Kunzru‘s brilliant book White Tears manages to do: confront people with the ghosts of their past. It’s a book that’s hard to articulate without spoiling any of its goods and, yes, there are a lot of goods.

The story follows Seth, a former shy kid who befriends Carter – a rich kid – in college. Seth and Carter bond over music and, after college, embark on a music producing career to some success. Seth has a knack for recording sound out in the world, to incorporate found sounds into his music practice, while Carter is obsessed with old records, particularly authentic music of yesteryear like blues. After Seth records a strange song on the streets of New York, strange things start happening. The rest of the book is a ride through riches and racism, America’s sordid history of blood money.

White Tears is a wild trip, almost in the literal sense too. It’s difficult to describe the book without giving too much away but I will say this: it unfolds in a surprising way and, like other thrillers (particularly Night Film), shows you a world before slowly burning it with the tip of Kunzru’s pen. You start to make connections and see Seth’s surroundings in a way that you half-expected but didn’t truly see until almost literally the final paragraph. It’s the type of book that speeds through you, holding you in the custody of history since you are in many ways culpable. It positions a (white) (American) reader not as someone who is observing a story but as someone who actively participates in it by way of America’s racial issues still being unfinished. White Tears offers a feeling very rarely afforded in contemporary fiction: it incorporates the understood you in.

Kunzru is a mastermind here. His writing is not only engaging and inviting but complicated in how it describes and defines a world with ease. The writing isn’t nearly as elegant as something like The Sellout nor is it as baseline as something like The Hike but it lands somewhere in between the two, as an “easy read” about uneasy subjects. The story all gets back to passing too and the limits and hopes of someone simply pursuing a dream because it is their dream.

But what happens when a dream gets co-opted or commandeered? That’s the question. It’s a very American question, one that I don’t think many have managed. White Tears presents it to you, allowing the drama to unravel at your feet until you are left sinking in the blood red soil.

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