He Sleeps A Novel

Reginald McKnight




Trade Paperback

224 Pages



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African American anthropologist Bertrand Milworth has ostensibly come to Senegal to do field research. But in truth, he has left his home in Denver to gain a fresh perspective on his marriage, which is troubled by an unusual sexual and racial conundrum. Struggling to fit in with his new Senegalese family—Alaine, his wife Kene, and their young daughter—Bertrand is, for the the first time in his life, haunted by surreal and increasingly violent dreams. His waking hours are no less sinister; unwittingly, it seems, Bertrand has become caught in the tension—sexual and otherwise—building between the married couple. His relations with the rest of the village community are also strained; he can't escape the sensation that he's being set up for a grand-scale betrayal. As his sense of isolation and alienation escalates, he comes to believe that not only his fragile sense of identity but his very life is at stake.

He Sleeps is "a love story," as Frederick Busch has noted, "in letters and an anthropologist's report. Its subjects are language, sexuality, and race . . . The revelations of this tough, taut novel are about the waking realities of how we live right here."


Praise for He Sleeps

"A sly, deep, perverse study of black middle-class alienation . . . Subtle and beautifully tuned. McKnight has fused poetic structure with the suspense thriller."—The New York Times Book Review

"An extraordinary job . . . With fluid, frank authority, McKnight addresses the sticky ironies of racial and national identity . . . invigorating."—The Seattle Times

"The book itself seems blessed . . . McKnight's novel pays homage to the African literary tradition at the same time it takes on a hallucinatory life of its own."—Alan Cheuse, National Public Radio

"McKnight forces us to think about race, sex, denial, but even more significantly, he forces us to feel."—Los Angeles Times

"An extraordinary novel, technically daring and thematically subtle and complicated. Bertrand's loneliness transcends race and time."—Ha Jin, author of Waiting

"McKnight examines Bertrand from every angle, gracefully switching between first-, third-, and even second-person narration, creating a complex portrait of a deeply conflicted man."—Booklist

"A compact, multivoiced novel . . . ambitious."—Kirkus Reviews

"McKnight's He Sleeps is both haunted and haunting, a veritably spellbound book. A sensitive and accurate portrayal of the uneasy interface between black Americans and African culture, this novel follows the tangled roots of racism back to the germinal point, but leaves us with a sense of common humanity."—Madison Smartt Bell, author of The Master of the Crossroads

"An ambitious inquiry into the nature of the self: identity at risk. He Sleeps walks the tightrope—between first and third person, black and white, growth and dissolution—with great skill. In the process of delineating this no-man's-land between America and Africa, McKnight again claims territory all his own: that place where daydream and nightmare conjoin."—Nicholas Delbanco, author of What Remains

"In this passionately written, thoughtfully conceived novel, McKnight portrays a man's confrontation with racial identity in its most elemental form . . . [The novel's] language wonderfully evokes the sights and smells of the African landscape . . . McKnight's intricate plot remains gripping, and he constructs an illuminating tale about race, gender and our fragile sense of self."—Publishers Weekly

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  • Reginald McKnight

  • Reginald McKnight teaches at the University of Michigan. He has received an NEA Grant, an O. Henry Award, a Whiting Award, and the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. His previous work includes Moustapha's Eclipse, I Get on the Bus, The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas, and White Boys.