Posted on July 15, 2014

the ‘undergrounds’ we traverse: thoughts on Kiese Laymon’s Long Division



“‘People disappear, City,’ she said, ignoring my question. ‘We live, we wonder, we love, we lie, and we disappear. Close the book.’

‘Are you for real? That’s it?’

And sometimes we appear again if we’re loved,’ she said. ‘Accept it.’”


“‘No,’ Mama Lara said, ‘This ain’t it. You know how movement works now. You know how love and change work. And you know that sometimes, just sometimes, when folks disappear, they come back, don’t they?’”

-excerpts from Kiese Laymon’s Long Division


Long Division is a dizzying, hilarious, piercing book that is about and told from the perspective of Citoyen Coldson, a teenager from post Katrina Jackson Mississipi, 2013. City, the main character, is an awkward but witty teen who is a bit unsure of his body and is competing in Jackson’s, Can You Use That Word in a Sentence contest. Constantly under the verbal attack of fellow contestant LaVander Peeler, City finds himself in the principals office one day after calling Peeler a “wack ni**a”. It’s there that he finds a book by the title Long Division but which is mysteriously without an author.

City reads the first chapter of the book to find it strangely about a boy named City from Jackson Mississipi only in 1985. Kiese Laymon’s Long Division takes us backwards and forwards from this post Katrina world of 2013 back to 1985 and further to 1964 as both City’s work at solving a mystery, traveling through time in this hole in the woods of Mississipi.

Without giving away too much of the book, what I love about Long Division, is the way the story dives unafraid into the concerns of respectability politics, the expectations an older generation of Black folk have for younger generations  surrounding how to act when white folks are watching. Compositionally brilliant, Laymon writes to those who have for so long not been thought of as audience, as reader. I could not put the book down as Laymon makes us laugh and cry at our differences but also makes us examine the fears we hold about love, if we can be loved, are we worthy of it. City dives into a hole in Mississipi to travel through time and solve a mystery and all the while Laymon is brilliantly challenging us to investigate the ‘undergrounds’ we must traverse, the histories we must face, and that only love can make some things reappear.

It is so hard to pinpoint Long Division as genre, and so I won’t even try, but if you are up for a good read that will make you laugh, cry and examine, look no further. Do yourself a favor and pick up Long Division!!!

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