Lit Guide: White Tears, by Hari Kunzru
If you’re in the mood to get angry about a book’s success, look no further than Hari Kunzru’s White Tears. A writer for The Guardian, Kunzru has written eight books—White Tears is his fifth novel. As the title of this book suggests, Kunzru uses literature to explore the complexities of race and identity, focusing on the relationship between black and white artwrk. However, Kunzru falls short—tragically short—of achieving his goal of an open dialogue about race and artistic appropriation. Instead, White Tears presents a half-baked narrative about musical exploration and wealthy white men who face no consequences for their actions.
The book centers around the lives of two twenty-something, white, and ambitious New York transplants: Seth, awkward and shy, and Carter, the glamorous heir to a great American fortune. After meeting at an undisclosed prestigious liberal arts school, the two find a common interest in music. While living in the city, Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in the park; Carter, seizing an opportunity, posts it on the Internet, claiming it to be a long-lost 1920s blues recording. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record is actually real, the men begin to uncover the history of greed, revenge, and exploitation embedded in black art.
As you can tell, I hated this book. The title drew me in—White Tears is a bold title for a novel, and I assumed the content would be bold, a little controversial, and thought-provoking. Instead, Kunzru’s purple prose prevents the reader from accessing or completely understanding any part of the plot. The writer’s tone and voice severely hinder the mission of the book—to discuss cultural appropriation of black art by white people. Instead, the reader becomes frustrated by Kunzru’s obnoxious turns of phrase. My copy of the book is currently covered in red pen—after the one-hundred-page mark, I chose to spend my energy copyediting the text instead of trying to enjoy the senseless plot. Furthermore, the characters are static and uninteresting, and—as wealthy white men—face no consequences for their inappropriate and damaging actions.
If you want to learn a bit about obscure music recording techniques and turn-of-the-century blues music, read the middle fifty pages of this book. Otherwise, don’t bother. I’ll be donating my copy to the library—copyediting notes and all.