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Book Review: Picking Up The Ghost by Tone Milazzo

August 11, 2014
Author Tone Milazzo

Author Tone Milazzo

Stereotypes . . . usually based on an essence of fact. Stereotypes can reinforce one’s ideas about people, places and things. Stereotypes can also create a wall over which or a maze through which one  must travel in order to find a different reality beyond the distorted world  image driven stereotypes.

I met Tone Milazzo at Comic Fest 2013.

He is a calm man, confident, yet unassuming. He graciously handled media for my lecture on Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura as a female African American role model during the sixties.  After my lecture, we began talking about the science fiction writers we favored as youth and had several in common. When he casually said”I’m an author,”  with that recognizable quiet tone of someone who really has written a book and proceeded to describe the type of books he writes. Fascination led to curiosity. He gave me a copy to review.

Picking Up the Ghost by Tone Milazzo is a surreal magic-horror narrative filled with urban other worlds at first juxtaposed against the reality of a Mississippi inner city lived experience that eventually becomes embedded into what most accept as real. It’s like the old southern term “born with a veil” in which those who have been recognized as such can see spirits in worlds within our worlds. Milazzo creates this “veil-like”  complex intriguing reality.

The protagonist is a young African American male named Cinque. The name itself has heroic dimensions in African American history.

Milazzo’s Cinque has a bullying, criminally inclined older brother, a strong mom full of secrets, and a “do what you gotta do to survive to thrive for the next generation” grandmother who is unaware of how many secrets Cinque’s mother is withholding, and an absent father. His father’s presence in absence looms large in Cinque’s search for an identity.

Cinque’s father’s hidden inter-racial relatinship with his mother, involvement with magic, interaction with disruptive and helpful spiritual entities that fluidly move between terrains on various spiritual planes of Africa and America ensnare him in a world for which he never asked. Parables and puzzles confront Cinque. Part of his quest is that he must develop discernment to read motives behind who is or is not benevolently helping him in order to survive.

In addition to descriptive wordplay, Milazzo uses visual images throughout the narrative heightens the suspense. And as a teacher, he also provides literary primary sources such as Harold Courlander’s Tales of Yoruba: Gods and Heroes, Bab Ifa Karades’ Handbook of Yoruba Concepts.1 for interested readers to explore on their own.

Without giving away too much, as the narrative unfolds, Cinque is plunged into a water ritual coming of age quest that will intrigue old and young.
Milazzo weaves a well written story. The language may seem somewhat stiff at first.  But he is wrestling with painting not only a young southern African American teenager’s shifting reality in a dying inner city, but also the way in which Cinque views the nurturing women who surround him with familial boundaries and love.  Visual images throughout the narrative contribute to the suspense and heightens narrative imagery.

Tone Milazzo travels beyond stereotype of the non-black author writing about African Americans. He portrays  a different 21st century reality of African American teenage maleness in Cinque’s world using complex multi-planar African American realities that embrace an existence of spirit worlds within worlds to write a counter stereotype coming of age narrative.

1 Tone Milazzo, “Acknowledgements” in Picking Up the Ghosts,1st ed., (2011: Toronto: ChiZine Publications) p.283. Artwork by Erik Mohr and Mara Sternberb, Interior Design by Corey Beep.

Note: Click onto the Book Review Page for more book reviews

Muse woman Delores Fisher

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