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Pushkin and the Queen of Spades –Reviews

From the Chicago Tribune:
Alice Randall's second novel, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, is brainy, funny and filled with literate insider references, traversing an arc that spans from Afro-Russian poet Alexander Pushkin (whose great-grandfather was an African slave given to Czar Peter the Great as an exotic gift) to martyred rapper Tupac Shakur. Randall pulls back the curtain on the urban, marginally middle-class, post-Great Migration village that raised her eccentric, black, bourgeois, intellectual heroine, Windsor Armstrong. Randall is something of a show-off, and her you-won't-believe-this voice resonates at times like Tom Wolfe's (without the mocking contempt), and her mosaic style requires the reader to step back occasionally in order to take in the entire picture .... Randall is a marvelous writer. She portrays the lives of contemporary blacks and the porous boundaries between high and low culture in a way no other writer is shouldering at the moment. She assumes her readers will get Pushkin and Tupac, Harvard and Detroit, interracial relationships and racial pride. She doesn't flinch from awful truths, such as the history of sexual exploitation of black women and its shattering effect. In Pushkin and the Queen of Spades we can see the kernel of a sweeping cultural-historical family epic in the vein of Roots, The Thornbirds or--Dare I say it?-- Gone With the Wind. The time is now. The field is wide open. Come on, Alice, write the big book. (Rebecca L. Ford, The Chicago Tribune)

From The LA Times:
"The Wind Done Gone is a little ditty compared with Pushkin and the Queen of Spades," Randall's operatic, far more audacious and accomplished second novel. Having warmed up her vocal cords and won our attention, she shows us the high notes she can reach when she orchestrates her background as a Harvard English major with roots in the Motown enclave of Detroit. In the guise of a mother's rant against her son's choice of bride, her new novel is an impassioned aria on the ferocity and consummate importance of parental love. It is also a complex manifesto on why and how race and roots matter, especially "in the face of love."...(Randall's novel) climbs the scales of powerful storytelling....Windsor's odyssey from prejudice to pride encompasses numerous literary references and brief ethnocentric reappraisals of various members of the literary canon, including Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Chaucer, "Othello" and "Jane Eyre." The poet Pushkin gets a full makeover....Randall's rap is a spirited tour de force enriched by her experience as a country songwriter. Purists may be less than thrilled, but Pushkin X enthusiastically pronounces it a wild "blue-eyed nigger of a poem…. It's a bastard of two strong things." Which, if you ask me, pretty well sums up Randall's stunningly gutsy, literate and original novel." (Heller McAlpin, The Los Angeles Times)

From The Washington Post:
"Alice Randall's first novel was The Wind Done Gone, the long-overdue send-up of Gone With the Wind that sparked the wrath of Margaret Mitchell's estate. The Mitchell estate, as many may remember, sued, attempting to stop publication. They lost, and The Wind Done Gone proceeded to have a successful career. I am happy it did because nothing should have been allowed to discourage the talent so clearly evidenced in the linguistically exuberant Pushkin and the Queen of Spades....The story is often anguished, the telling is often comic. It's a bittersweet and highly literate narrative, loaded with skillful references to literary history. Windsor's reality blurs with remembered scenes from her favorite books -- snippets from the Russian masters, Pushkin especially, but Faulkner, Jane Austen and even Colson Whitehead also receive cameos. Dostoyevsky is never mentioned; the resemblance, perhaps, strikes too close to home. Pushkin and the Queen of Spades is Notes From the Underground -- black Mama-style....Like its forebear by Dostoyevsky, this book is a dance of lengthy expository passages, memories and fantasies hinged to a narrative. The heart of the tale is in the lyricism of the telling. Pushkin and the Queen of Spades takes as its core themes the problems of race and identity. Often discursive, it may at times resemble a nonfiction treatise on these subjects. But its saving grace is how imaginative it nonetheless is. Alice Randall gives us a character (and Windsor Armstrong is a great character), a situation, a pulse, a sense of the contradictions that life involves. The book isn't overwhelmed by the urgency to say something pithy, corrective and unequivocal. Better a fictional character's fumbling contradictions than unrealistic, arrogant or badly thought out answers. The story of Windsor Armstrong and Pushkin X humanizes the issues, and that in turn humanizes the reader." (Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, The Washington Post)

From the Boston Globe:
"The center of Randall's new novel is a sophisticated black woman's pain at her son's choice of a white woman for a wife, and her agonized reflection on her own freedom and that of her son's. It's about letting go of expectations and realizing that her son's generation doesn't share her history or her pains. At the same time, it's a meditation on the African strain in Alexander Pushkin, which disappears in succeeding generations, and about the theme of family love and loyalty." (From a profile of Alice by David Mehegan, The Boston Globe.)

From January Magazine:
"It's tempting -- and I know some reviewers will give in to the temptation -- to call Alice Randall -- author of The Wind Done Gone -- one of the most important black voices to emerge in the United States over the last several years. That statement, while true, is not true enough. Randall understands the stuff of which stories are made. She knows how to build characters we care about. She knows how to impart import without hurting our heads or our enjoyment. Randall's strong, clear, important voice doesn't require that qualification of color. I suspect that author would appreciate the distinction. I know Windsor Armstrong would." (Linda Richards, January Magazine)

From the Associated Press:
"If novelist Alice Randall stirred up trouble with her controversial parody, The Wind Done Gone, she kicks up dirt with her second novel...which challenges stereotypes about race, beauty and motherhood, and explores the taboo subject of interracial relationships. Pushkin and the Queen of Spades is a densely packed philosophical discussion about black culture and family, with all of its hopes and flaws -- "stories of folk who squeezed love from madness." Randall's characters are vividly portrayed, strong, complex and sometimes tragic. We don't always agree with what they say or do but we certainly understand the motivation behind it....Reading Pushkin and The Queen of Spades is like riding the Cyclone at Coney Island, bouncing high along a track you're not totally comfortable with because it shakes you up. This is a provocative and sociologically significant novel that addresses issues that are central not only to contemporary black America." (Yvette Blackman, Associated Press)

From The New Orleans Time-Picayune:
Randall's novel is encyclopedic in its forms, stories, and range of emotions. She captures the mother-son conflict with deft sympathy for both the combatants. She is able to picture her characters' antecedents, both black and white, with unblinking honesty....The late rap singer Tupac said "being black hurts," and Randall's novel clearly shows the level and the extent of that hurt. She also knows that being black is rich and creative and truly lovable. Windsor, once so caught up in the drop of blood theory of blackness, finally understands "that it is not a drop of blood that makes you black but the stories you know, the sounds you feel." All of Randall's characters live and tell amazing stories. (Mary McCay, chairwoman of the Loyola University English department, reviewed for the New Orleans Times-Picayune)

From other reviews:
"What to Read This Summer." (Chicago Sun Times)

"The Books of Summer, 2004" (Houston Chronicle)

"The literary equivalent of noisemakers and spicy soul food-for-thought." (Barbara Lloyd McMichael, Seattle Times)

“The novel begins brilliantly, with intelligent, unpredictable riffs on Motown vs. D.C., rape and racism, and the difficulty of being a good parent ... With this heady tale, Randall proves decisively that she is more than a parodist.” (PW, starred review)

"...a thoroughly enjoyable read steeped in contemporary culture and dilemmas." (Fredrick Hudson, Black World Today)

"Randall's writing has infused brilliance into this novel....It should not be missed." (Brian Buchanan, The Tennessean. Read the Tennessean profile of Alice.)

Audio & transcript of Alice's appearance on The Tavis Smiley Show: On Monday, June 14, Alice appeared on the PBS program, The Tavis Smiley Show. A transcript and audio file of the interview can be found on the program's website.

From other authors:
“Alice Randall may be the most subversive, and necessary, writer on race in America today.” (Tony Earley)

“Sexy, sharp, funny, moving ... a love song to black America, to strong fathers who stay in the game, and to mothers who know when to hold on and when to let go. Alice Randall writes like a whirlwind and is a gift to American fiction.” (E. Lynn Harris)