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Book Review :: Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

 Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Chain-Gang All-Stars is Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut novel. After his stellar 2018 story collection Friday Black, this is an important book, but it’s also a good, if challenging, read. He creates an America similar to our contemporary one, but he’s updated some of the technology and introduced a new extreme sport, one in which those whom the state has incarcerated battle each other to the death. What hasn’t changed, though, is the racism and sexism and brutality found within the carceral system. Adjei-Brenyah highlights both Americas through the portrayal of his characters, but also through footnotes that remind the reader that, while his work is fiction, the suffering endured by so many is absolutely real. This mixture of what happens in twenty-first-century America and what has happened throughout American history along with his fictional world that builds upon those realities constantly reminds readers that what happens in the prison system today—especially the for-profit sections of it—is effectively no different from having prisoners kill one another for entertainment. Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxx” Stacker—the two main characters—try to create a relationship in the midst of this oppression and abuse, and they also work to show America what could be different, just as Adjei-Brenyah does in his novel.

Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Pantheon Books, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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