Touré --- a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, an MTV personality and a CNN regular --- takes the reader on a wild ride while paying tribute to African American history and pop culture in SOUL CITY. Anyone familiar with the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the genre known as magical realism may see this book as the African American version of it, mixing fantasy and fact, humor and melancholy. Touré takes the reader to a world where people fly and can live for centuries. It's a combination of magical realism and THE WIZ, a fable that celebrates being Black in America, from the days of slavery to today's culture of music, cars and clothing.
In chapter one, the reader is introduced to Cadillac Jackson, who is on assignment in Soul City to write a short piece on the mayoral election. His problem: how to put down in writing all that he sees and encounters on his trip to this enchanting and surreal place. All around him he hears music, he sees people dancing, and everyone is happy. Young girls playing Double Dutch fly through the air as they skip rope to the tune of a song. Vehicles are built around famous crooners. You could have a Billiemobile (Billie Holiday) or a Sinatramobile. Music is everywhere!
He meets people who are larger than life, including Granmamma, a woman who bakes biscuits filled with other people's memories and claims she has been involved in over 142 mayoral elections. If you do the math, that's a time span covering 248 years, and she's still going strong. She has evaded "Death" so that he can never catch her off guard and take her to heaven. She and a number of other citizens can boast their age in centuries, as they have all learned how to dodge the Grim Reaper, literally.
Emperor Jones is the current mayor, having been so for the past twelve years. As mayor of Soul City, his main duty to the people is being the DJ for the town. He believes in a balance of music, whereas some of his political opponents focus on only one genre, thus possibly changing the tone of the town forever. It is his job to make sure that the best person wins the election and does the right thing for Soul City.
Meanwhile, at the Biscuit shop, where the town can get their fill of Granmamma's wonderful magic biscuits, Cadillac meets Mahogany Sunflower for the first time. When Mahogany and Cadillac become an item, word gets around, and the town is worried that the two may decide to procreate.
Mahogany knows that, because he's not from Soul City, he and his children will not have the gift of flying, and it is crucial to the town's welfare that she continue on the tradition of giving birth to children who know how to fly. She is allowed only to marry someone from Soul City. Mahogany knows better than to get involved with an outsider, but Cadillac feels that their differences should not break up their love. If Mahogany does get pregnant with Cadillac's child, will she be dooming Soul City forever? Their relationship, as well as the elections and the new mayor, Spreadlove, take the book in a different direction where the city is in peril, and it's up to someone to save it.
Through this fantastic tale of love and life in a city that loves its music, Touré intersperses snippets of pop culture from as far back as the 1940s and through the 1970s and beyond, making one want to laugh, smile, or nod in recognition. He has written a brilliant tale full of wit and fast-paced humor, with characters who are bigger than life. But Touré also writes about the roots of Black America, represented by one segment of the population of Soul City that is living the life of a slave for a month. Citizens of Soul City willingly partake in this tradition to better understand their slavery roots, to better appreciate the life they have today. It is a sobering part of this novel that brings the reader back to reality. Touré does an excellent job at writing a book that will entertain and, at the same time, give one a sense of history and pride.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton (Ratmammy@lofton.org) on January 23, 2011