Saturday, January 5, 2013

Book Review: Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

Back to Blood

Author: Tom Wolfe

Publisher:Little, Brown and Company
Date of Publication: October 23, 2012
Pages: 502 (Hardcover), 534 (NOOK edition) 

     I actually finished reading this book several weeks ago, but it took me awhile to get my head around it.  Superficially, this is an entertaining story about art forgery.  Tom Wolfe's books, however, are never, ever superficial.  Back to Blood contains enough satire, social commentary, politics, criticism and curmudgeonly pontifications for ten novels.  In previous tomes this author has skewered modern heroes (The Right Stuff), the self-indulgence of the 1980s (The Bonfire of the Vanities), the "get ahead at all cost" mentality of the 1990s (A Man in Full) and the pompous self-importance of modern academia (I Am Charlotte Simmons). So, what's the message here?

     The characters are a motley crew.  The more or less main character is Nestor Camacho, a first generation Cuban-American who has worked extremely hard to become a Miami police officer.  His girlfriend is a nurse who works for a celebrity psychiatrist specializing in pornography addiction.  There is a dashing Russian art dealer who donated $70 million worth of art to the city, prompting the grateful populace to fund a museum to house the collection.  It is, of course named for the Russian.  There is a plethora of minor characters: a Haitian college professor of mixed race who extends his finances to buy a home in a white neighborhood and passes himself as "French", money mad art collectors who rabidly overpay for quasi-art at a Miami based international art festival, Nestor's family and a vast collection of Russian mobsters, Cuban politicians, African-American public servants (including the police chief) and degenerate sex-crazed and drunken Anglos.

    The plot lines are legion and weave the stories of these diverse characters brilliantly.  It is a wild story, well told, but again, in Tom Wolfe's novels the story is secondary to the message.  After letting this book stew in my sub-consciousness since well before Christmas, I think I know what the author is saying.  He is delivering the big message that the entire Republican Party missed in the last national election.  Wolfe is bludgeoning us with the fact that not only is this country not defined by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants anymore, but it is really not defined by any particular ethnic group or demographic.  At one point he coins the term "Welding Pot" which he feels should replace "Melting Pot" as the great metaphor for America.  He uses Miami as the penultimate international city to note that cultures and ethnic groups in modern America no longer blend, but are actually physically forced into interaction.  Like opposite poles of a magnet, these groups don't readily attract.  The results are not always convivial, or even congenial.  In Tom Wolfe's view of the new world order these interactions are laced with ethnic pride, rivalry, nationalism and violence.

     Tom Wolfe's books are always entertaining, always surprising and always challenging.  Back to Blood is no exception.

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