The Stone Face

NYRB Classics. Jul. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9781681375168. pap. $14.95. F
This forthright, morally engaging 1963 novel by a neglected Black expat author applies a distinctly international perspective to questions of race and class. Fleeing the viscerally recounted racist brutalities of his native Philadelphia, Simeon Brown feels a giddy sense of liberation upon arriving in Paris. Sensitized to the cold stone face of the white gaze, he swiftly becomes disillusioned when he observes that, far from discovering some post-racial paradise, he has merely traded up into a more elevated caste, and that in mid-century France, Algerians occupy the lowest rung. Worse, Simeon is complicit in their oppression, as are his fellow Black American exiles and his Jewish lover Maria, a survivor of the Nazi death camps. This dissonance sets him on a dire course that will culminate in the massacre of Algerian protesters by Parisian police in October of 1961, of which this novel offers a rare depiction.
VERDICT Far more than his contemporaries Richard Wright, Chester Himes, and James Baldwin, Smith (1927–74) parlayed his experiences in Paris into universal explorations of race, caste, and colonialism, earning him a place alongside them on library shelves.
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