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The Portable Promised Land    by Touré order for
Portable Promised Land
by Touré
Order:  USA  Can
Back Bay, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Portable Promised Land is a collection of short stories, many set in the mythical Soul City, where African Americans are engagingly and riotously larger than life. As Touré reminds us in his Prologue, 'Magic realism lives among us', and though he provides anecdotes of truth stranger than fiction, his own fiction proves to be even stranger than these truths. He gives us hilarity based on an exaggerated reality that entertains while it exposes some disturbing aspects of both American society and African American culture.

One of my favorites is The Steviewondermobile, the 'cathedral on wheels' of Huggie Bear, a man with a very firm view of his priorities. There is the downfall of the Revren Daddy Love, told with a cynical affection that made me smile as it portrayed the 'dramatic theater of daily life'. There are amusing notions like the excessively cathartic 'breakup ceremony' or the harsh treatment for 'blonde obsession', a condition handled very like alcoholism. Or readers can join the 'ecstatically blasé' at Jamais and enjoy the details of its peculiar menu.

The serious side of the title story, The Portable Promised Land, is more overt - 'When you a Negro white folk is like doors ... And when there ain't no door the door is jus then being built' - as it shows the damaged Sugar Lips and his unusual temptation by Reverend Doctor Bernard Z. LeBub (another story portrays the devil as a black George Burns). The pressure to go with majority opinion is portrayed strongly through a tennis analogy in Slush Puppie Open, and through the radical extremes in the Black Widow series.

One I found charmingly sad is told by 'little me jus up to somebody's knee' proud but anxious for his father in Blackmanwalkin. Another starring a child, Solomon's Big Day, explores the nature of art and expression, and the author seems to give away his own technique ... 'If you want to mirror reality, get a camera. If you want to make someone understand reality, then you have to lie a little. You have to distort things, to exaggerate in a way that reveals the way you see things.'

Touré gives us a great deal to digest in these tales, with a variety comparable to the extremes in the Jamais menu from 'Rhinoceros Testes' to 'chocolate dementia'. Though some insights are, as the author hints to us, impenetrable to those outside the Black experience, many, like the definition of life as 'Stayin sane in a world constructed to drive you insane ...', are universal.

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