The novel...sagely explores themes of religion, class, art and genius, and introduces elements of magic realism (mermaids and mermen appear, as does a man who is inexplicably healed of short leg syndrome), resulting in the kind of imaginative work only a prodigiously gifted risk-taker could produce.... Song of the Shank brilliantly portrays the story of Blind Tom while providing keen insight into the history of Reconstruction. But at its heart, it also reminds us denizens of never-will-be postracial America of one simple but everlasting essential truth: “Them chains is hard on a man. Hard.“
Mitchell S. Jackson - New York Times Book Review
[A]mbitious but unwieldy.... Both the conception and the underlying history behind this story will leave readers with a profound understanding of the inhumanity of slavery and 19th century racial attitudes. This is a dense and admirable book that invites an important excavation of the past, yet ultimately provides neither intimacy nor perspective.
This long and obscure novel by the PEN Discovery Prize winner of Rails Under My Back.... Verdict: There is no reason to doubt this highly regarded author's seriousness of purpose, but this remains a challenging work: long, dense, uncompromising, and mysterious. For sophisticated readers. —James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.
(Starred review.) In the extraordinarily talented hands of Allen, Tom is a mysterious and compelling figure.... Amid the larger drama of slavery and its injustices, Allen offers the more intimate drama of one young boy’s life and the financial and emotional investments involved in the question of what’s to be done with his exceptional talent. A brilliant book, with echoes of Ralph Ellison and William Faulkner. —Vanessa Bush
(Starred review.) One of America’s most gifted novelists projects dark and daring speculations upon the incredible-but-true 19th-century story of a child piano prodigy who was blind, autistic and a slave.... Allen’s psychological insight and evocative language vividly bring to life all the black and white people in Tom’s life.... Allen’s visionary work...should propel him to the front rank of American novelists.
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