The Sellout

I just finished Paul Beatty‘s The Sellout, which was the Man Booker Prize winner of 2016.  It’s a short, strange, witty novel that, though seemingly humorous, tackles very serious social and cultural issues.

The novel starts with the protagonist, African-American Mr. Me, high on his homegrown marijuana at the Supreme Court of the United States, waiting for his case, Me vs. The United States of America, to be heard and evaluated by presiding Justices.  The rest of the novel is a sort of flashback on what exactly it was that Mr. Me did to get where he was in the beginning of the novel.

“Bonbon,” as he is known in his community, was born and raised in a ghetto farm in the city of Dickens near Los Angeles, California.  An only child and home schooled, he also served as his father’s sole subject/guinea pig when trying to recreate famous psychological and sociological experiments. His father subjected him to countless social experiments, usually modified to fit their social class or culture, all in the name of science.

Dickens, where Bonbon had lived all his life, is a predominantly Black and Mexican city, rife with gang violence, domestic violence, and poverty.  Imperfect as it was, it was home, and it upset most of its residents, especially Bonbon, when the State suddenly decided to wipe Dickens off the map as if it had never existed.  As an adult, Bonbon, a farmer who grows the best weed (for his personal needs) and fruits in the entire city, conducts his own social experiments not only to bring back his city of Dickens to the consciousness of its residents but also to help and improve his community’s general way of life. Ultimately, it is the measures he undertakes to achieve these goals that not only gets him arrested but a place in the history books of the United States of America.

The Sellout is a complicated book. It is sharp, witty, and hilarious, but its truthfulness and sometimes irreverent way of dealing with serious issues, such as racism, poverty, and cultural and social inequality, might make readers uncomfortable. Paul Beatty uses satire and humor to shed light on the types of lives that African-Americans and other cultural minorities lead in impoverished and violence-ridden inner cities as well as the social inequalities and injustices that non-Whites experience in this day and age in postracial USA.  With the stepping down of America’s first Black President and the stepping-up of its new, controversial one, the release of Paul Beatty’s novel seems not only timely but also ironic.

Having only read His Bloody Project, I can’t say if The Sellout is the most superior among the shortlisted novels. Compared to His Bloody Project, I think The Sellout has more social weight and relevance, though both novels deal with prejudice and injustice to a certain extent.  Read The Sellout and judge for yourself if it’s worthy as the first American Man Booker Prize winner.


The Sellout (2016) – Paul Beatty

Picador; 289 pages (paperback)

Personal rating:  3.5/5

Date read:  January 10 – January 20, 2017

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