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Radio 2 Book Club - Harlem Shuffle

The next book to be featured on the Radio 2 Book Club with Steve Wright will be Harlem Shuffle, the brilliant new novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead. The book will be released on 14 September and Colson will be on the show on Wednesday 8 September.

We have the chance for you to win 10 copies of this fantastic novel for your reading group! Please enter by Friday 17 September.

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Harlem Shuffle

“Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…”

To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably-priced furniture, making a life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home. Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger and bigger all the time.

See, cash is tight, especially with all those instalment plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace at the furniture store, Ray doesn’t see the need to ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweller downtown who also doesn’t ask questions.

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa – the ‘Waldorf of Harlem’ – and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do, after all. Now Ray has to cater to a new clientele, one made up of shady cops on the take, vicious minions of the local crime lord, and numerous other Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he starts to see the truth about who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?

Harlem Shuffle is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.

Selection panel review

The book was selected with the help of a panel of library staff from across the UK. Our readers loved Harlem Shuffle – here are some of their comments:

“Exciting and really well-paced novel, which was hard to put down. Harlem Shuffle is ultimately a heist novel taking place over several years. Following Ray Carney, a furniture store owner and sometime middleman for the criminal underworld of Black Harlem, the book explores the consequences of the decisions we make – or are pushed into – and the challenges of reconciling one’s past with their present. Interesting explorations of navigating race and class tensions, and fantastic historical detail that embeds the reader in the time and place of 1950-60s Harlem. While Ray Carney was a compelling main character who was easy to empathise with, I was as interested in the well-drawn secondary characters and their lives and backstories. I think it would appeal to a wide range of readers and lends itself to discussion. Good humour and great noir elements.”

“This is a story of one Ray Carney, a part time crook, who leads the double life as a respectable owner of the furniture store in Harlem and at the same time stolen goods fence, delivered by his cousin Freddie. He struggles between being respectable (wife, two kids, thoughts of a better place to live), and getting some cash. What I particularly like about this novel is the sense of place – Harlem in the 60s, racism, social issues, and also the language, and the way in which the whole thing just flows.”

“Ray Carney tries to straddle the line between hardworking honest businessman and small-time crook. These things rarely end well. Everyone is bent and no one can be trusted. The descriptions of 1960s Harlem are spot on and the characterization is excellent.”

About the author

Colson Whitehead is a multi-award winning and bestselling author whose works include The Nickel Boys, The Underground Railroad, The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt and a collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. He is one of only four novelists to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction twice and is a recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships. For The Underground Railroad, Whitehead won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Fiction, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence and was longlisted for the Booker Prize. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for a second time for The Nickel Boys, which also won the George Orwell Prize for Political Fiction and The Kirkus Prize.

The Underground Railroad has been adapted as an Amazon Prime TV series, produced and directed by the Academy Award winning director Barry Jenkins, and was broadcast in 2021. He lives with his family in New York City.

Get involved

Tune in to the Steve Wright show on Wednesday 8 September to hear a live interview with Colson.

Have you read Harlem Shuffle, or any of Colson’s other novels? You can share your thoughts with us on Twitter using #R2BookClub and you can also follow Colson.

Planning to buy Harlem Shuffle for your group? Buy books from Hive or from Bookshop.org and support The Reading Agency and local bookshops at no extra cost to you.

Want to make sure you get the latest news? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

You can join the Radio 2 Book Club Facebook group

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