CrimeHarlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead


Colson Whitehead is a global literary icon. Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes & a US National Book Award, he is best known for The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, two exceptionally powerful, visceral books that shattered hearts and souls everywhere. This prolific author is known for playing with genres and this latest release, published in 2021, is no different. 

His eighth novel, Harlem Shuffle is set in 1960s New York and is a blend of cultural satire, racial allegory and moral exploration all brought to the reader in a crime heist novel which is much lighter than his previous work.

Set against a backdrop of race riots, looting, gentrification and political corruption, Ray Carney is a furniture salesman who is trying to build a future for his growing family. He gradually gets caught up in illegal activity and we follow his internal struggle between striving for success honestly and becoming more embroiled in crime.

This reminded me of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in feeling like a play on morality and social responsibility. Ray is a layered character that leaps out of the page and through the plot Whitehead exposes the hypocrisies of the justice system and the false moral dictates set by capitalism. What is a crime in a country built on it, what is theft for a people who were themselves once property (“stolen bodies working stolen land,” Whitehead wrote in The Underground Railroad ) as one review asks.

What is masterful about Harlem Shuffle is the innate wit, the swagger of dialogue, the razor sharp sentences that will make you re-read them over and over to fully appreciate the lyrical power of his words. It’s not a heavy read, I found it utterly immersive, painting such vivid imagery that you are there with the characters. There is no one like Colson Whitehead.

~ Chaya

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Order your copy of ‘Harlem Shuffle’ here.

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