Nubian Circle Book Club

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The Queen of Harlem Book Review

Phyllis Rhodes

The Queen of Harlem is a novel that focuses on the struggles of Mason Randolph as he comes of age. He is a very well spoken, well-educated, wealthy Black man from Louisiana bound for Stanford Law School.  However, he decides to take a hiatus and travel the world and ends up in Harlem wrestling with his identity, self-worth, and ethnic authenticity. In his mind, Harlem with its history and people, will allow him to keep it real by living with genuine black people."

After being teased and called a Theo Huxtable, Mason takes the name and persona of his thuggish tormentor, "Malik", and moves into the brownstone of the ever-fabulous Carmen, an uptown diva of Harlem. Carmen, who seems to know everybody who is somebody and has a social calendar beyond belief happily takes him under her wing thinking he looked needy.  He then fabricates an impoverished, tormented background that foster more lies to explain his current situation.   It works for a while and he enjoys life on Carmens coattails as they attend art openings and posh parties meeting a host of interesting characters along the way.  His web of deceit begins to unravel when he meets Kyra, an uptown girl, whose background is much like the life he left behind.  To court her, he quickly realizes that he needs to become Mason again but the momentum behind the Malik character's world crashes it all.  Carmen also becomes suspicious when his day job does not check out and before he can take corrective action the two galaxies of Mason and Malik ultimately collide. But Mason/Malik is not the only one with a story Carmen is a quite an enigma herself.  Her secret is revealed in a very clever twist at the end of the novel.

Jackson's wry tongue-in-cheek brand of humor meticulously plays with words and his well placed manifestation of clichés and metaphors elevate this book to an above average rating.  The vivid descriptions of Harlem, its people, and colorful character dialogues of Carmen, Mason/Malik, Niku, Kyra and the rest of the cast kept the novel flowing from the pages.   The main character Mason/Malik was refreshingly honest.  It caused no surprise that he fantasizes about Carmen daily only to fall for Kyra, a college student, whose background mirrored his.  The moral of the story?  To thine own self be true.  He learns (the hard way) that pretenses and facades are reckless and shallow and by engaging in them attracts equally shallow people, alienates those who know the truth, and hurts the ones you love. 

This book applied meaning to some very old clichés:   Don't judge a book by its cover, There is more than meets the eye, The grass appears greener on the other side, and What is done in the dark will surely be brought to the light.  Mason realizes that everyone has something to hide and that to get what we want, we have to be willing to let go of our secrets. This was an easy read and I think Jackson will be praised in the literary world for this latest body of work.  This reader's personal favorite from Jackson is still his debut novel, The View From Here; however, I'm not disappointed with this novel, it was very enjoyable.

The Nubian Circle Book Club rating for The Queen of Harlem is 3.75 out of 5 stars.  We welcome your comments and thoughts about this book review.  Please e-mail us at this address: