White Tears is a supernatural mystery, a horror story, and ultimately a tale of black Americans’ historical exploitation by white profiteers ... The book is moody, threatening, and profoundly dark; Kunzru’s prose has a Delilloesque density, constructing settings and atmospheres so charged and vivid they seem to envelop the reader in a miasma of mise-en-scène. Carter and Seth’s work, and the idealistic gloss they layer over a creeping sense of historical guilt, receives no artistically optimistic reading from Kunzru ... White Tears isn’t exactly a re-centering of black experience, but a collapsing of the white hero mythology that often guides American movies, books and TV shows that nominally address black culture. It zeroes in on an impulse that yearns to be pure, uncompromising and compensatory, finding the nasty worm of entitlement and exploitation that’s burrowed at the heart ... At every turn, Kunzru’s words concoct a dreamlike world where the past isn’t dead, nor even past, and the boundaries of reality flicker at the margins. For a nation seduced by a fantasy of white appropriation, maybe a horror story of white appropriation is exactly what we need.
Kunzru’s graceful writing is exquisitely attuned to his material. Seth’s integrity as a narrator is so convincing that at first the frequent jumps into an uncannily familiar past feel like a counterpoint melody that will resolve by the last page. But it’s neither a clever Time and Again story of time travel nor a tricky Westworld sort of past-present parallel. White Tears is a profoundly darker and more complex story of a haunting that elucidates the iniquitous history of white appropriation of black culture.
...what is most impressive about this truly impressive novel is how integrated these apparently disparate parts are, how White Tears reads less like a grab bag of Kunzru’s obsessions (a crucial word in this text) than a coherent, if disturbing, vision of what America has meant and continues to mean ... In leading us surrealistically toward the heart of the blues, White Tears offers a realistic, far-ranging analysis of how capitalistic accumulation depends upon exploitation and how frequently this exploitation has depended upon racial violence. This balancing of the nightmarish and the clear-eyed is superb, and White Tears is Kunzru’s best book yet.
Mr. Kunzru is a first-rate writer with a weakness for experimentation. In the book’s latter chapters, he flattens the different time periods into a single, hallucinatory storyline, making it difficult to grasp even the basics of what is happening from moment to moment. But the novel resolves itself to a startling and memorable comeuppance at the finale. To fetishize the blues, Mr. Kunzru suggests, is to enjoy the fruits of suffering while ignoring the suffering itself. This ghost story is about balancing the ledger.
...by the time the book's horrific jolts have finished pulling your insides out of your own skin, whatever color it may be, White Tears discloses to its readers that it's been wearing a series of masks all along, each concealing what turns out to have been its real motive: to show how the icy hands of exploitation and greed are act ... Kunzru has proved that he is one of our most delicate manipulators of shadow, inference, and menace, and that he knows how each is conjoined by history to exact dues from the present ... White Tears won't answer all your questions about race and authenticity. But it may at least help make a couple of things clear. First, race isn't the only factor in getting fucked over by the powerful in America; second, the only 'authenticity' that counts for anything in the end is whatever's staring back at you in the mirror.
Kunzru’s awareness and discernment have particular value in an America of the moment where nothing less than the country’s meaning is at stake. White Tears is distinguished by a knowledge of blues at its deepest, a gift for observation at its most penetrating and stretches of plain old marvelous writing, some swallowing up the pages around them the way a single song swallows up the side of an album ... A little more than halfway through, when things happen that don’t entirely add up even on the book’s terms, the reader gets the feeling that the narrative relies on the author’s stellar writing a bit excessively. We feel ourselves skillfully maneuvered from this point to that rather than swept up by the novel’s momentum ... But in the final quarter the story regains its bearings, grasps us in its intensity and then gathers force, offering its strongest passages and revealing, in this Book of Secrets, the biggest secret of all.
One of the small pleasures of this novel is the precise way Kunzru etches the awkward parameters entailed in befriending the very rich ... [Kunzru's] novels share a suave yet searching confidence and a fascination with how technology, so often viewed as a catalyst of the future, tends to dig up the unresolved messes of our past ... Whatever, exactly, is happening, Kunzru creates the overwhelming sense that White Tears is spiraling down into the shadowy heart of the matter, to the poisoned center of America’s past. The novel’s momentum is irresistible. Call it a ghost story or a rumination on art, possession and responsibility—or both—it has all the force of a truth that can be neither denied nor buried—at least not for long.
...[a] stunning, audacious new thriller...an urgent novel that's as challenging as it is terrifying ... White Tears is part thriller, part literary horror novel, and completely impossible to put down. It's a tight book: Kunzru keeps building suspense until the very last page, and he offers the reader no breaks from the terror. His writing is propulsive, clear and bright, whether he's describing an old blues song or a shocking act of violence. And while it's a timely novel about a topic that's frequently discussed in America, Kunzru is never pedantic or preachy. A plot like the one in White Tears could easily lead to a heavy-handed lecture disguised as a work of fiction, but Kunzru lets the story go where it needs to; he doesn't polemicize because he doesn't need to.
Any novel set in the music biz rightly aspires to stereophonic meaning, but the reverberations of Hari Kunzru's White Tears echo long after it's done. Part ghost story, part travelogue, White Tears is a drugged-out, spoiled-rotten treatise on race, class and poverty of the soul ... Crackling literary allusion is spliced throughout White Tears, slyly evoking works by Thomas Mann (Carter's decidedly Aryan, vaguely incestuous family), Ralph Ellison (Seth's persistent inability to make others notice him becomes an actual shift in skin color) and others.For all that and then some, White Tears is a book that everyone should be reading right now.
...begins as a coming-of-age story, takes a turn into surrealism and horror, and ultimately reveals itself to be a gritty moral fable about cultural appropriation ... Like James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, White Tears uses magical realist elements to capture aspects of the history of racism. But for this reader, the novel’s punishment of its characters seems to outweigh their crime, making two somewhat generic white fanboys the surrogates for centuries of theft and violence.
The trouble is that our primary guide through the kudzu of history that White Tears creates is Seth, a young man afflicted with self-loathing and social anxiety, the kind of storyteller who has to resort to college-essay tactics to tackle a big subject ... Seth is so listless that he excites only a cerebral pity. He remains a cipher... He has no context and spends a lot of the book adrift, seemingly so he can be a fly on the wall for Kunzru’s project. Eventually, this function is literalized: He’s simply a tool ... Unfortunately, the characters in White Tears are missing the blood and heart that would bring this important story to life. There’s a painstaking quality to the novel that’s reminiscent of Carter and Seth’s studious reproduction of that old record. An agenda of condemnation appears to have overtaken the curiosity that has allowed Kunzru to imaginatively inhabit so many different people.
Like a savvy social anthropologist, Kunzru is constantly on the move, toggling between Chelsea art galleries and rundown parts of the Bronx, the verdant estates of old-money America and shitty dive bars populated by 10am drinkers ... Kunzru’s novel skids and slaloms inexorably to Jackson, Mississippi, where Charlie Shaw may or may not have once sung. Its bandwidth gets increasingly congested with hysterical and urgent voices, as it deconstructs and unravels what it portrays as white privilege. It also performs a haunting, to remind us of the bloody conditions that leak through and constitute so much of the blues.
Hari Kunzru has written a timely novel that demands an examination of the toxicity and perniciousness of whiteness. With razor-sharp insights, White Tears depicts what Greg Tate calls 'everything but the burden' ... Kunzru has listened closely to the sounds most attuned to American life, and his novel pays homage to the legacy of the blues that permeates much of the American present ... As Kunzru demonstrates in the novel, the echoes of Charlie Shaw’s lyrics reverberate through history, into the present. Regardless of a willful refusal to know him and his experience, his song is omnipresent and will haunt us until we no longer disregard its existence.
...at once ingenious and odd, riveting and mysterious ... What begins as an odd-couple buddy story quickly transmutes into a noir thriller and, finally, into spine-tingling surrealism. The thrill and pain of the blues, black America’s foundational music, propel this book from conventional start to eerie finish. Its white protagonists are fascinated by it, motivated by it, ultimately undone by it ... The final 70 pages or so make for a dizzying, disorienting ride, a la Pynchon or DeLillo. All this shape-shifting and genre-shifting requires an adventurous reader. But those willing to suspend disbelief will be richly rewarded. White Tears is a brave, ambitious novel. While moving at breakneck speed, it manages to speak volumes about race and justice, power and enthrallment, cultural appropriation, friendship and the power of music to transport us to realms beyond words.
From the very start, White Tears is hard to put down. It is addicting and utterly unpredictable, a headlong rush toward an ending this reader did not see coming ... Is it OK that, in a story about race, the black character's story is left to the end, or is that the point? Perhaps it is his point, but I'm not sure it is OK. Perhaps his intention was to make the reader think about this. In that, he succeeded. But if that was not his intention, then his message was simply muddied.
""...captivating ... The first half of White Tears — its A-side, if you will — charms you with the verve of its storytelling and the energy of Kunzru’s sentences, which sometimes read like licks or riffs layered over his main theme. If its 'B-side' is less successful, that might be because the narrative loses steam somewhat when, halfway through, Carter is unceremoniously removed from the plot. But it might also be because some of its central concerns feel rather familiar ... But while not always making it new, White Tears is a witty, strange and often very moving book. I feel sure I will play it again.""
...a ghost story about the vengeful spirit of a dead bluesman … Kunzru’s conceit — a vengeful recording — interrogates the complex racial politics of the consumption and collection of blues music by white listeners … Kunzru weaponizes the figure of the ghosted blues musician, reconfiguring the insubstantiality of the revenant Shaw as a relentless, brutal haunting...Shaw’s vengeful reappearance is the expression of a desire for others to finger the jagged grain of his life, to force those who would invoke his name to experience those historical injustices visited upon African Americans not as some abstract image of suffering, but as real-world agony and fury.
White Tears is a fast-paced, hallucinatory book written in extraordinary prose, but it’s also perhaps the ultimate literary treatment of the so-called hipster, tracing the roots of the urban bedroom deejay to the mythic blues troubadours of the antebellum South. In his most accessible book to date, Kunzru takes on the vinyl-digging gentrification culture with a historical conscience.
Kunzru has done his homework on racial history and white privilege, but the novel is also lifted on his sharp descriptions of music, which he makes so concrete and delectable you understand why his misguided, ill-fated heroes fall so hard for it. A well-turned and innovative tale that cannily connects old-time blues and modern-day minstrelsy.
White Tears shifts setting and time period without overtly signaling these moves to the reader, creating a disorienting and hallucinatory read ... Kunzru masterfully manipulates his prose to reflect the breakdown in narrative time. Rhapsodic descriptions of the sounds of New York City give way to short, syncopated sentences.
Kunzru’s beautiful and innovative prose unfolds like a mad series of lines that read like a beautiful ramble ... The boundary line between sense and order gives way to insanity, the boundary line between the living and the dead begin to blur–and as time itself begins to unravel, Kunzru keeps the reader in rapt sway with his gorgeous prose. But he also repeatedly offers a reminder that this all has happened already, that everything has happened before.
...when White Tears ended, I wasn't ready. I wanted more time with it. The path it took wound and meandered through different times, voices, and places; by the end, I was devastated to see it go ... This is a story to savor, though. The language, the music, the twists and turns: they're all lovely, despite speaking of events so ugly one should want, so very much, to turn away. Take your time when reading White Tears. Think about actions and consequences, and journeys with no destinations. Think about the way people treat each other, with carelessness and venom. These days, in these troubled times, it's good to think about carelessness and venom, and the way they can lead to truly tragic endings.
Charlie Shaw becomes a full-blown occult presence. Possible murders and instances of zombielike possession ensue. Kunzru has a message here about the inescapable effects of past injustices and deceptions. But he skates into mumbo-jumbo while delivering it ... As White Tears grows more ambitious, it loses sight of its best asset: the tensions stirred in Seth by his genuine audiophile connection with Carter, whose money and privilege make him feel like nothing. The bravura technique of the novel’s finale, by contrast, isn’t nearly as engaging.
In its interest in the lines between past and present, White Tears plays with its own sort of polyphonic sound; repetitions of violence and doubled hauntings create an eerie harmony. As the novel picks up speed, even the present tense and the past tense begin to blend into an uncomfortable melody that only adds to the novel’s terror ... The reverb Kunzru creates by colliding voices from different eras is no trick — and it makes White Tears a novel filled with echo and disaster that feels alarmingly, crucially present.