Charles Johnson's innovative and richly imagined collection is full of stories -- sly, witty, and insightful -- that bring the world into focus. Each is a vivid cultural and philosophical portrait that deftly explores issues of identity and race. "Kwoon" follows the spiritual journey of a martial arts teacher on Chicago's South Side. "Sweet Dreams" is a Kafkaesque tale set in a world where dreams are taxed and a man and his dreamlife are being audited. "The Gift of the Osuo" is a fable about the dangers of getting what you wish for. In "Cultural Relativity," a young woman falls in love with the son of the president of an African nation but is forbidden to ever kiss him. The title story is an illuminating and deeply human tale about pre-Montgomery Martin Luther King Jr. and a revelation he had when he looked into his refrigerator late one night.
Provocative, engaging, and compassionate, Dr. King's Refrigerator is a superb and important collection from a major American voice.
Sages squabble, philosophers deliberate and kings dream in this collection of eight short stories by National Book Award-winner Johnson (Middle Passage, etc.). Like fairy tales for policy-minded grownups, the stories revolve around ethical and philosophical decision making. In "Executive Decisions," the head of a Seattle company ponders which of two candidates to hire for an important post. The easy favorite is a white woman, capable and personable; the other contender is a tense, watchful black man, who knows "firsthand and through research... the contributions from people of color." In the end, the narrator's decision hinges on a revelation about the role of a black woman in his own white father's past. Though wooden in conception (like many of these stories), the tale comes to life at its ambiguous ending. Johnson's longer, more carefully fleshed out stories are most effective. In "The Gift of the Osuo," the king of a 17th-century African tribe is given a magic chalk that allows him to draw anything and make it come to life. The things he draws resemble "not the Real, but the Real transfigured," and it's the magic of this vision that transforms an otherwise ordinary fable. The didactic flatness of most of the other entries--including the title story, in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. finds inspiration in lettuce and grapefruit--isn't quite obscured by occasional bursts of inventive language and insight.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
January 31, 2005
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Dr. King's Refrigerator by Charles Johnson
Not long ago a college student named Felicia Brooks felt she was the most fortunate young woman in all Seattle, and possibly in the entire world, except for one small problem.
She was deeply in love with her boyfriend, an African student who was the only son of his country's president. His name was Fortunata Maafa. In the spring of 2001, they both were graduating seniors at the University of Washington. They had been dating all year long, he was more than she could ever have hoped for, and Felicia knew all her friends thought Fortunata was catnip. In fact, she was afraid sometimes that they might steal him from her. Most of them had given up on black men entirely. Or at least they had given up on American black men. Their mantra, which Felicia had heard a thousand times, and often chanted herself, was, "All the good black men are taken, and the rest are in prison, on drugs, or unemployed, or dating white women -- or don't like girls at all." What was a sistah to do? During high school and college, Felicia and her friends despaired of ever finding Mr. Right.
But then, miraculously, she met Fortunata fall quarter at the Langston Hughes Cultural Center. He looked like a young Kwame Nkrumah, he dressed as elegantly as Michael Jordan, was gorgeous the few times she saw him in his agbada (African robe), and he fit George Bernard Shaw's definition of a gentleman being "a man who always tries to put in a little more than he takes out." Furthermore, he was rich. He could play the kora, an African stringed instrument, so beautifully you'd cry. Yet, for all that, he still had a schoolboy shyness and was frequently confused by the way Americans did things, especially by pop culture, which was so sexually frank compared to his own country that it made Fortunata squirm. All of this Felicia thought was charming as well as exciting because it meant he was her very own Galatea, and she was his Pygmalion, his guide and interpreter on these shores. He dazzled her every day when he described the ancient culture of his father's kingdom in West Africa. There, in that remote world, his people were introducing the most sophisticated technology, and that was why Fortunata had studied computer engineering. But, he said, his people worked hard to avoid the damaging aspects of Westernization. They were determined to revolutionize their science, but also to preserve their thousand-year-old traditions, their religion, and their folkways, even when the reason for some of these unique practices had been forgotten.
One night in June after their final exams were over, Felicia played for him the movie Coming to America on the VCR in her studio apartment on Capital Hill, hoping he would enjoy it, which he did. No sooner was it over, than Fortunata slid closer to her on the sofa, and said, "I am so like Eddie Murphy in this funny movie. I came to America four years ago, not just for an education, but really to find a beautiful American woman to share my life. To be my queen. Felicia, that woman is you, if you will have me. Because if I can't have you, then I don't want anyone. I just won't marry, ever."
Naturally, Felicia said yes.
"And," he added, "you promise not to change your mind? No matter what happens?"
From the pocket of his suitcoat, Fortunata produced a ring with a flawless, four-carat diamond shaped like the Star of South Africa, for precious stones were plentiful in his country, a nation rich in natural resources. Felicia threw her arms around him. Then, without thinking, acting on what she believed was instinct, she brought her lips close to his. But before she could kiss Fortunata, he wiggled away.
"What?" said Felicia. "What's wrong?"
Fortunata gave her a shy, sideways look. His voice trembled. "I'm so sorry. We don't do that...."
What?" she said. "You don't kiss?"
She looked straight at him, he looked down. "You know I can't."
"Please, don't start this again." Now Fortunata seemed nervous; he began rolling the end of his tie between his fingers. "I'm not sure why. We just don't. The reason is lost in antiquity. Felicia, it's not that unusual. Polynesians rub noses, you know. Samoans sniff each other. And traditional Japanese and Chinese cultures did not include this strange practice called kissing. I suspect they felt it was too intimate a thing for people to do. All I know is that my father warned me never to do this thing when I came to America. We've discussed this before. Don't you remember?"