If you recently saw the film Hidden Figures, you were probably shocked, as I was, by the brutal segregation suffered by the valiant black women in the 1960s in the USA whose story was told so dramatically in the film. This book, “in search of Paul Robeson” brings this separation between black and white in an earlier time from the 20s and 30s.It is even more heart-breaking. Jeff Sparrow points out how forgotten this talented black man now is. Personally I remember his glorious singing voice, which always reminded me of the richest, darkest chocolate, but he achieved so much more in his life. The publisher’s information states “Paul Robeson was an actor and performer; a champion athlete; a committed communist; a brilliant speaker; and a passionate activist for social justice in America, Europe and Australia. Hailed as the most famous African American of his time, he sang with a voice that left audiences weeping.” So why is he virtually forgotten? This account of his life, and his death, tells the reader why Sparrow believes he has fallen from the world’s memory. The author traced Robeson’s career from its humble beginning (he was descended from a freed slave in North Carolina) to his appearances around the world as a celebrity, walking, as best he could, in Robeson’s footsteps. It was an exhausting journey, but one which has left us with a splendid account of this fabulous figure. Cleverly the reader, particularly one who knows nothing of the subject of this biography, is introduced to Paul Robeson as he sang Ol Man River to the workers at Bennelong Point. This was in 1960, when on his only visit to Australia, the world-renowned singer came to see the site of the future Opera House. This first chapter is bound to capture the interest of every Australian, which then leads on to so much more. Sadly Robeson was not able to relinquish his solid beliefs in communism, even though he witnessed the violence of the Spanish Civil War. This, according to the author, is the true reason for his fall from grace. Surely : No way but this”. This is an intriguing life, beautifully realised by a fine writer, and should be widely read and appreciated. It could have been enhanced by an index, and most certainly by some photographs illustrating even more starkly the brilliance of this performer. Of course it would have made the book more expensive but, in the biased opinion of this reviewer, it would have been well worth it.
NO WAY BUT THIS by JEFF SPARROW
PUBLISHED by SCRIBE for a recommended $32.99