RARA-AVIS: foreign versions of America and "passing"

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 22 Mar 2004

I recently finished Boris Vian's I Spit On Your Graves. Although I didn't think it lived up to some of the raves I've read here (then again, how could it?), I did think it was pretty good.

It did get me thinking about two particular phenomena that it embodied. The first is the framing of this Frenchman's book as having been written in America. Now Vian went to further lengths than many, claiming to have translated a real American book, but his is not the only hardboiled/noir book written by a non-American to set itself in the US. John Hadley Chase did it, as did Munoz and Sampayo, with their Joe's Bar and Sinner stories. Didn't all of these authors base their takes on America on secondary, usually fictional sources, never having visited the real thing? And doesn't that seem to imply that America is considered the natural setting for hardboiled/noir? I'm not sure where I'm going with this beyond noting the trend, but I think it says something about the idea of America and mythmaking.

The other thing Van made me think about was books about Blacks passing as Whites. I can think of a few others -- Trick Baby and Long White Con by Iceberg Slim, a book by Walter Mosely (don't want to name which one and spoil it for those who haven't read it), Who Walks in Darkness by Chandler Brossard. I haven't led the last. Is it any good? Are his other books? Is Brossard hardboiled/noir?

Again, I don't really have anything to say about this other than pointing it out, but this secret (and the often tragic results of keeping it) does offer an author a setting in which to explore ideas of race in American culture.


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