Slumberland A Novel

Paul Beatty

Bloomsbury USA




256 Pages



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Slumberland, Paul Beatty's incisive look at a man's search for meaning and identity in an increasingly chaotic world, is the story of DJ Darky and his journey. After creating the perfect beat, DJ Darky goes in search of Charles Stone, a little-known avant-garde jazzman, to play over his sonic masterpiece. His quest brings him to a recently unified Berlin, where he stumbles through the city's dreamy streets ruminating about race, sex, love, Teutonic gods, the prevent defense, and Wynton Marsalis in search of his artistic—and spiritual—other.


Praise for Slumberland

"Slumberland is laugh-out-loud funny and its wit and satire can be burning . . . There are incredible moments of tenderness . . . Beatty is a kind of symphonic W. E. B. Du Bois."—Los Angeles Times

"What Gore Vidal did for sex and gender constructs, Beatty does for race and prominent black Americans, with sacred cow-tipping on nearly every page. Waterfalls of wordplay that pool and merge like acid jazz on the page."—The Washington Post

"A remarkably strange and funny meditation . . . revelatory and mind-blowing."—The Seattle Times

"Nobody riffs like Paul Beatty. Uproarious, incisive and thrillingly original, Slumberland is a masterful journey into sound, a diatonic/Teutonic search for love, identity, the perfect beat and the perfect beatdown. Like any great soloist, Beatty reveals entire worlds with each note, some of them heartbreakingly familiar and others heretofore unknown. This is an epic mash-up of race, music, culture, history, and everything else worth throwing on a turntable."—Adam Mansbach, author of The End of the Jews

"In Paul Beatty's brilliant comic novel, an American deejay in Berlin declares the end of blackness even as he finds himself the object of a million racial projections. Every sentence is a moment of fierce and intelligent wit, and all of our preconceived notions—of racial-uplift narratives, of Germany, and of the nature of music—are turned squarely and rightly on their heads."—Danzy Senna, author of Caucasia and Symptomatic

"Furiously written . . . another bravura performance from the searingly talented Paul Beatty. A no-holds-barred comedic romp that crushes through the Fulda Gap of Black/White, East/West relationships like an M1 tank."—Junot Díaz

"Beatty's ferociously witty and original third novel follows a Los Angeles DJ called Darky, who, having created a revolutionary ‘perfect beat,' heads to late-1980s Berlin to find the obscure, incomparable jazzman known as the Schwa and get him to lay down a track over it. If that sounds preposterous, it is—gloriously so. Helped by a mysterious call from a Berlin bar called Slumberland and by the near-simultaneous arrival from Germany of a man-on-chicken sex film scored by someone who can only be the Schwa, DJ Darky leaves California for a job as Slumberland's ‘jukebox-sommelier,' a position he's invented and quickly perfects. He earns a living and a reputation (and the erotic adventures that come with said reputation) by way of his encyclopedic knowledge of music, especially African-American music. Mostly what he finds in Germany, though, is the time and distance required to ruminate, with a scabrous wit that spares nothing and no one: about blackness (his own and that of others), about music, about the United States and Germany, about sex, about language. This is a book made almost entirely of riffs and harangues, but the riffs are so virtuosic and so hilarious that the reader is hard-pressed to take note of, much less to lament, minor omissions like plot or character development. Whether he's warning against the ‘cutie-pie cabal' of The All-New Mickey Mouse Club; spinning a track for a philosopher skinhead; hypothesizing about Harriet Tubman or Nabokov or Big Daddy Kane; rhapsodizing about every sound he's ever heard (he has a ‘phonographic memory'); or brilliantly spinning an analogy between East Germans after reunification and African-Americans during Reconstruction, DJ Darky brings the full funk. He's not a man for half-measures, especially not for half-measures of rhetoric, and he loves nothing more than turning some anodyne myth or ill-considered conventional wisdom inside out and stomping on it for a while."—Kirkus Reviews

"Ferguson Sowell, aka DJ Darky, has created what his fellow L.A. turntablists proclaim is the perfect beat, a synthesis of life itself. All that remains is for the beat to be ratified by finding legendary avant-garde jazzman Charles Stone and convincing him to solo over the beat. Stone, however, is as mysterious as he is legendary, and no one knows if he's even alive. Then a clue, in the form of a porn tape, arrives mysteriously, and DJ Darky travels to Berlin in the months before the Wall comes down to find Stone. Beatty's freestyle prose is a writerly equivalent of John Coltrane's reinvention of "My Favorite Things"—by turns lyrical and edgy, playful, passionate, deeply hip, and endlessly inventive. As he searches the city for Stone, DJ Darky ruminates on race, German culture, music, sex, the destruction of the Wall, life in L.A., and dozens of other subjects; some of his thoughts are harsh (e.g., his withering critique of Wynton Marsalis), but they all are memorable."—Thomas Gaughan, Booklist

"In his third novel, Beatty creates a story from music. DJ Darky, a Los Angeles musician who, like a modernist jazzman, creates beats from found sounds, travels to Berlin, Germany, in search of his avant-garde idol, Charles Stone, aka the Schwa. Shortly after discovering the Schwa's beat in a mysterious envelope, DJ Darky sends a demo with his own infallible sound to the Slumberland Bar in Berlin as an application for the position of ‘jukebox sommelier,' for which he's immediately accepted. Beatty takes us into pre-Wall Berlin and finishes just after liberation, ending in a crescendo of incomprehensible rhythm from DJ Darky and the Schwa's collaboration that re-creates a metaphorical wall. The narrative touches on oppression and the inexplicable, transcendent power of music, both of which translate to the American race struggle. Beatty's rolling Faulknerian prose has been praised for its ‘dazzling linguistic flights' (Salon), and this newest novel is no different; the dense imagery and sound create a synesthesia carnival."—Library Journal

"The narrator of Beatty's late '80s picaresque, Ferguson W. Sowell—aka DJ Darky—is so attuned to sound that he claims to have a phonographic memory. Ferguson, who does porno film scores for the money in L.A., has a cognoscenti's delight in jazz, and he's close to obsessed with Charles Stone, aka the Schwa, a musician who apparently disappeared into East Germany in the '60s. Ferguson receives an already-scored tape whose soundtrack is so rich and strange and transformative that it must be by Schwa. Ferguson is soon on his way to Slumberland, a bar in West Berlin to which he sources the tape. He arrives just in time to experience the sexual allure black men exercise on Cold War Berliners, and stays long enough to watch the city's culture fall apart after the fall of the Wall. With its acerbic running commentary on race, sex and Cold War culture, the latest from Beatty, author of Tuff and editor of The Anthology of African American Humor, contains flashes of absurdist brilliance in the tradition of William Burroughs and Ishmael Reed."—Publishers Weekly

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  • Paul Beatty

  • Paul Beatty is the author of three other novels, Tuff, The White Boy Shuffle, and The Sellout, and two books of poetry, Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. He was the editor of Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor. He is the first American to win the Man Booker Prize, and he is a recipient of an Arts and Letters Award in Literature. He lives in New York City.

  • Paul Beatty Photo Credit: Hannah Assouline