Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy

Robert Kennedy has been shot in Los Angeles, California, and Albany, New York, is about to enter a long night of arson, mayhem, and violence.

In the midst of this is the journalist Daniel Quinn who before the night is over will have filed news stories that will provoke and irritate his employer. Quinn has become a newspaper man as he wants to be a witness, and he “has a strong impulse to salvage history, which is so fragile, so prismatic, so easily twisted, so often lost and forgotten.”

Throughout the eventful and dangerous night Quinn encounters a long row of charismatic Albany citizens: alcoholics, criminals, bums, hacks, and activists who are so well portrayed that they could all be heroes of the tale. And William Kennedy makes this possible by not being judgmental and by not insisting that everyone has to be in a certain way – he shows humans in all their contradictory glory – and nobody, not even the hero, knows who will play the role of the hero before there is a need for one.

Roughly ten years before these events of 1968, Quinn has been in Cuba and witnessed another kind of violent turmoil as Fidel Castro and his soldiers revolt against the bloody oppression of the Batista regime. Like so many citizens of Albany, numerous Cubans yearn for change, but change may not always come in the desired shape. Castro will indeed grasp power in Cuba, but then the new government will feel the need to protect the revolution and before soon the country will – again – be governed by the few. Great upheavals of historic significance come and go. What William Kennedy does so exceptionally well is to show how humans respond and adjust to situations that may not be their choice.

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