Book Club: ‘James,’ by Percival Everett

Book Club: ‘James,’ by Percival Everett

Welcome to The Book Review Book Club. Every month, we select a book to discuss on our podcast and with our readers. Please leave your thoughts on this month’s book in this article’s comments. And be sure to check out some of our past conversations, including ones about “Good Material,” by Dolly Alderton, and “Demon Copperhead,” by Barbara Kingsolver.

You know him as Jim, the sidekick in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” He’s an enslaved Black man who finds himself fleeing down the Mississippi River with Huck, as both attempt to reach very different types of freedom. Along the way, Jim is teased, duped, subjugated and otherwise maligned, in part because of Huck’s penchant for trickery and in part because of the mechanisms of slavery and racism in the American South in the 1800s.

Though Jim’s plight is harrowing, he’s not the star of this Mark Twain classic; he’s relegated to a variety of supporting roles, including comic relief, deus ex machina and agent for Huck’s moral awakening.

Now allow the novelist Percival Everett to reintroduce him. In Everett’s latest book, “James,” Jim becomes, you guessed it, James. The broad strokes of Twain’s character are still there — James is still an enslaved man who runs away after he hears that his master is going to sell him. But in Everett’s hands, James is no longer a helpless companion. Now, he’s a remarkably smart linguist, reader, writer and philosopher who is forced to play dumb for survival but is actually fighting for his family, freedom, dignity, self-determination and the right to tell his own story.

For this month’s Book Review Podcast book club, we’re chatting about “James,” by Percival Everett. The discussion will air on May 31, and we’d love for you to join the conversation. Share your thoughts about the novel in the comment section of this article by May 22, and we may mention your observations in the episode.

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