Blood at the Root
by Ciahnan Darrell
Reviewed by Michael J. Coffino

Blood at the Root uses the power of a video event—the sacrificial torture and racial atonement of the scion of a white billionaire—to weave interrelated stories with constantly changing community characters that morph into a microcosm of American culture.

It is difficult to know where to start with this marvel of literature. The choices are many.

One is that the author has an uncommon command of language and ability to display imagery.

Another is how the author writes in a style that makes his vision our vision, that we get to share how the story and characters make him feel and drive the writing, and how, with some exception, it’s easy to surrender to the narrative’s brilliant beats and measures, as his words have their way with us.

Another is to recognize that Blood at the Root is profound commentary on race and social justice and poverty and to admire the author’s unwavering commitment to cultural authenticity, albeit sometimes done to a fault, and to appreciate how he compels us to think and rethink, reassess who we are and how we see the world, should we dare.

That the writing is a unique amalgam of poetry, prose, performance art, and theater, its characters rich in dimension, compelling, and provocative, becoming human building blocks of an impassioned polemic for our times.

Or that the character dialogue is exquisitely drawn, crisp, lean, and evocative, deftly putting the reader in the moment, as if viewing film on screen. We not only see the action; we are in the action. There is no fourth wall.

And then there is the creative edgy troubling premise of a modern day white Christ giving himself up for ancestral sins, tying the narrative together. It is disturbing in expression, far-reaching in its ramifications. Readers likely will react strongly, in myriad like it or not ways, which, at the end of day, is writing achievement.

Blood at the Root is not always easy reading, especially for the initial scores of pages. The author’s penchant for urban slang and foreign languages (primarily Spanish), while justifiably serving cultural authenticity, injects perusal hiccups, slowing us down here and there. It is okay to send us to dictionaries, but not every page or two. The same is true of the author’s demonstrative preference for purple prose, which while showcasing the author’s considerable talent, can demand too much of readers, most of whom want to glide seamlessly with the storyline.

But hang in there. Mr. Darrell’s storytelling is superb. He knows people. He gets them, and masterfully captures their essence in action and dialogue. Blood at the Root is a well-drawn interplay of subtlety and in-your-face commentary about the world in which we live, a tome about the worst we as a culture have to offer, with its degradations, evil, and emotional and psychological pain, a literary kaleidoscope of urban cultural nuance that grabs the reader and refuses to let go. It is the kind of work to which you will want to succumb for a deep introspective journey.

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