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Leon Forrest: Divine Days (Part 3)
Part 3 (Sorry if it's a little late). Read from February 20, 10:45 a.m. to Sunday, February 20, 1:15 p.m. Pages 470-593 So I recently was looking up online the best novels set in Chicago, and I stumbled upon this top 40 list of which the top five are: 1. Divine Days by Leon Forrest 2. Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow 3. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser 4. Native Son by Richard Wright 5. The Studs Lonigan Trilogy by James T. Farrell I was passing by a new used bookstore two weekends ago, when I actually found a copy of the top one on the list, Divine Days by Leon Forrest. Leon Forrest is one of the most unique African American authors of the Modernist tradition in the same vein as Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison was actually his editor for his first three novels. Divine Days is written in a stream of consciousness jazz like style that ranges from the oration of an African American pastor to the slang of the South Side. Divine Days was based off of Ulysses and is frequently compared to that work in reviews, with a lot of internal references to Joyce, Shakespeare, and Dostoevsky. It is massive clocking in at 1135 pages in total. Leon Forrest isn't very well known, and his books are out of print, but undeservedly so, and I think he deserves a chance for readers to rediscover his work, with his novel feeling very relevant in a time of Black Lives Matter and with so much violence in the South Side today, I thought it would be nice to discuss a novel that tries to show a part of Chicago in a brighter light. This year also marks 80th anniversary of his birth and 20th anniversary of his death. As far as I know, the only place available to purchase a copy is through Amazon, the link for which is provided below. Divine Days takes place over a week from February 16-23, 1966 in fictional Forest County, which is basically a thinly veiled Chicago. The following page numbers are the 15 divisions of the book. 01. Wednesday, February 16, 1966, 6:00 a.m. Pages 9-82 02. Thursday, February 17, 9:30 a.m. Pages 83-96 03. Thursday, February 17, 3:00 p.m. Pages 97-162 04. Friday, February 18, 10:00 a.m. Pages 163-208 05. Friday, February 18, 4:30 p.m. Pages 209-229 06. Friday, February 18, 6:30 p.m. Pages 230-271 07. Saturday, February 19, 7:00 a.m. Pages 272-364 08. Saturday, February 19, 5:00 p.m. Pages 365-469 09. Sunday, February 20, 10:45 a.m. Pages 470-497 10. Sunday, February 20, 1:15 p.m. Pages 498-593 11. Monday, February 21, 8:00 a.m. Pages 594-630 12. Monday, February 21, 7:15 p.m. Pages 631-643 13. Monday, February 21, 11:00 p.m. Pages 644-826 14. Tuesday, February 22, 9:30 p.m. Pages 827-986 15. Wednesday, February 23, 10:00 a.m. Pages 987-1135 Leon Forrest Chronology: 1937: Leon Forrest is born on January 8, 1937. 1984: Starts writing Divine Days. Leon finishes the manuscript of 1829 pages in late August 1991. July 1992: Another Chicago Press brings out 1500 copies of Divine Days. Novel receives spectacular reviews. At end of year, is selected for Chicago Sun Times Book of the Year award for best local fiction in 1992. November 6, 1997: Leon Forrest dies in Evanston Hospital after completing his five novella sequence Meteor in the Madhouse. New York Times review: The Soul of Joubert Jones By Stanley Crouch Published July 25, 1993 DIVINE DAYS By Leon Forrest. 1,138 pp. Chicago: Another Chicago Press/W. W. Norton. $32.50. ALL of the previous experiments and partial successes of Leon Forrest's output -- "There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden" (1973), "The Bloodworth Orphans" (1977) and "Two Wings to Veil My Face" (1983) -- now read as an overture to his new novel, "Divine Days," an adventurous masterwork that provides our literature with a signal moment. It takes place on the South Side of Chicago over seven days in late February 1966, as the ideas that led to the canonization of Malcolm X are beginning to spread. Yet for all its freshly rendered black American texture, the novel is provincial neither in its scope nor in the technique of its narrative. At more than 1,100 pages, this epic detective story pulls in elements of the Gothic, the tall tale, the parable, the philosophical argument, the novel of ideas, the history lesson, the novel of manners and the sort of close observation Balzac, Mann and Hemingway would have admired. There are also copious references to black American writing, opera, boxing, popular songs, blues, movies and cartoons. The technique of the novel is boldly musical. Mr. Forrest prefers to lay his symbols out clearly, so the reader consciously watches him do his stuff the way an audience listens to chorus after chorus of jazz inventions on a standard song's melody and chords. He develops his tale through literary "chorus structures" in which the "melody" might be metamorphosis and the "chords" motifs -- phrases, archetypes, colors, natural elements. With each successive chorus, the variations become more and more complex until they are either resolved or end abruptly, only to be picked up later. The orchestral control from the first chapter to the last is apt to make our most serious novelists both grateful and envious. Joubert Jones is the narrator, a playwright just returned from two years of military service in Germany. Joubert intends to write a play about Sugar-Groove, a Mississippi half-caste and lover man whose mutating legend is a gift to the Chicago black people, ever willing to spin a tale about him or to listen when a fresh one arrives. Sugar-Groove has disappeared, and Joubert wants to find out what happened to him. The playwright has already attempted to bring the story of W. A. D. Ford, the cult messiah of a church called Divine Days, to the stage. Ford has also disappeared. While Sugar-Groove represents the tragic optimism, wit, miscegenated complexity and profane sensuality of the blues spirit, Ford is a demonic, totalitarian force that rises from the pagan recesses of black American culture. Joubert's memories of Sugar-Groove and his discoveries about the man allow Mr. Forrest to examine the various ways our shallow, hand-me-down revisions of history and culture can tear us from the transcendent grandeur of our heritage, deny the endless miscegenations that complicate our national identity and set us up for so many sucker blows that we end up culturally punch-drunk. Through the lascivious Ford, "Divine Days" looks without a blinking eye into mad orders and confidence men, like Father Divine, Daddy Grace, Jim Jones and the leaders of the Nation of Islam. The playwriting conceit allows the many literary allusions to work naturally, while Joubert's jobs -- as a reporter for his aunt Eloise's newspaper and as a bartender in her Night Light Lounge -- help supply the novel with its rich breadth of characters. THE work's exceptional strength arrives through the virtuoso fusion of idiomatic detail and allusions to the worlds of literature, religion and folklore. "Divine Days" eloquently renders the lives and passions of Creoles, retired redcaps, race hustlers, intellectuals, prostitutes, waiters, politicians, dupes, preachers, the police, barbers, heterosexuals, homosexuals, public-school and college teachers, faith healers, gourmands, thugs, dancers, obsessive dog lovers, military men, drunks and the celibate. Mr. Forrest develops an intricate antiphony between things specific to the South Side of Chicago and universal themes like transcendence, the irresponsible uses of the charismatic, the heartbreak of the doomed romance, the riotous absurdity of human circumstances and the reincarnation of individuals and eras through the passing on of styles. In this context, Joubert's experiences and revelations are delivered with such artistic resonance that the struggle for the black American soul becomes a supple metaphor for the battle between the democratic impulse and the modulating varieties of religious, political, racial and gangster totalitarianism. Like every very long novel, "Divine Days" contains passages that do not sustain force, that fall into excess, that blubber into sentimentality. But like a liberating hero who must rise over interior shortcomings, Leon Forrest never fails to regain his power and take on the pain necessary for a difficult victory. Given the disappointing nature of our times, his novel should capture the souls of all who love books and feel our national need for freedom from the rusty chains of an intellectual and esthetic slavery that maintains itself by adding link after link of cliches. Amazon Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0393312216/ref=sr_1_1_olp?ie=UTF8&qid=1487778809&sr=8-1&keywords=divine+days+leon+forrest Article on Leon Forrest's death: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/January-1998/Bound-for-Glory/ PDF file on the Oral tradition in Divine Days: http://journal.oraltradition.org/files/articles/9ii/7_rosenberg.pdf If the book is too long for one meeting, we will cover it over two or three meetings.

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This group started in May 2011, and we've read novels by Joyce, Malraux, Kafka, Wright, Mishima, Faulkner, Nabokov, Unamuno, Ellison, Hamsun, Woolf, Biely, Gide, and many others. We try to have a good time discussing the books without descending to small talk, think critically without descending to pedantry, etc.

Also, as the title shows, we've expanded our reading list since the group started. We don't really want to title the group something as vague as "Chicago Literature Group," etc., and modernist fiction and poetry still make up most of the reading list. But if some group members are excited about reading something else, be it Goethe or Ovid, Wallace or Perec, we're interested in that too. Feel free to make suggestions.

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