From one of America’s premier writers of fiction” (New York Times) comes this novel inspired by the 1985 police bombing of a West Philadelphia row house owned by the back-to-nature, Afrocentric cult known as Move. The bombing killed eleven people and started a fire that destroyed sixty other houses. At the center of the story is Cudjoe, a writer and exile who returns to his old neighborhood after spending a decade fleeing from his past, and his search for the lone survivor of the fire a young boy who was seen running from the flames.
An impassioned, brutally honest journey through the despair and horror of life in urban America, "Philadelphia Fire isn't a book you read so much as one you breathe" (San Francsisco Chronicle).
Wideman's extraordinary new novel is really two books, each an exhilarating, dependent rival of the other. The early passages present expatriate black writer Cudjoe, who returns to his native Philadelphia hoping to write a book about the 1985 police firebombing of the headquarters of a black cult. Cudjoe's homecoming spurs a confluence of vivid memories and impressions within the character's meticulously delineated consciousness. He recalls the abandonment of his white wife and two children; his failed novel; a dead mentor. Through his sensibility we also receive a rich evocation of the urban environment and of the city's new status as a deteriorating, black-governed metropolis. In incantatory, lyrical, naturalistic and inventive prose, Wideman writes of sex and race and life in the city, with all the beauty, profane humor and literary complexity of Joyce writing about Dublin. The final section of the work--with its quickly shifting voices, personas, historical and metaphorical inferences--has as its core a redemptive black vernacular interpretation of Shakespeare's The Tempest , in which the horrific firebombing of the title is raised to the symbolic level of Prospero's storm. Wideman's fiery tempest sets his characters--black and white, male and female, adult and child--into motion, hurtling toward one another with the possibility of self-knowledge and salvation. 75,000 first printing; major ad/promo; author tour. (Oct.)