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Paul Beatty's The Sellout

This sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, always evocative and politically on point satire sucked me in, working on many different levels. As a white liberal living in an affluent L.A. neighborhood, I greatly appreciated the dive into the history and culture of the black and Latino community of what was once South Central Los Angeles—or was it Dickens, California? Characters Bonbon, the urban farmer protagonist, Hominy, the last surviving Little Rascal, Marpessa, the bus-driving girlfriend, King (Kang) Cuz, the gangsta controlling the hood, Foy, the overblown and failing crusader for black rights are so well-rendered, so credible that I happily rolled with them into the book’s magical realism. They speak precisely of what is lost, what is shed, what is gained through de-segregation and re-segregation, through stereotype and racism.


As a non-driving bus-rider, I loved Marpessa’s bus, all that it could do, the places it went. The bus I rode, line 485—Altadena to Downtown L.A. Union Station— made its way stop-by-stop through streets becoming ever more crowded. Marpesa’s bus wound its way from the hood, Compton, say, to the beach, and eventually purred along Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu and beyond. Its tires loved the lapping surf, its passengers the mystic moonlight.


Maybe Bonbon is a “racial pervert,” as Marpessa says, raised by his father, a social-psychologist, black rights activist and founding member of the Dum Dum Donut Intellectual Society. Maybe we are all racial perverts, pseudo-intellectuals figuring it out, staking our own Dum-Dum Donut claims.

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