Reading as a picaresque novel of its protagonist’s adventures on three continents, a spy novel, and a historical novel, The Man Who Cried I Am is a political novel in the large sense of exploring the causes and effects of the actions of persons, organizations, and governments in their relationships with each other. Its plot is woven of the inner and outer aspects of the life of its protagonist, Max Reddick, whose personal history illustrates developments in American race relations between the mid-1930’s and the mid-1960’s. The story is narrated from the omniscient third-person point of view, but in a voice that often features the dying Max Reddick’s reflections upon his present circumstances or his memories that are stimulated by the funeral in Paris of his dear friend and fellow black novelist, Harry Ames, and his meeting in Amsterdam with his estranged wife, Margrit.
The novel’s opening and closing scenes take place in an outdoor café in Amsterdam. In the opening scene, Max Reddick sits waiting for Margrit to walk by, on her way home. The day before, after Harry Ames’s funeral, Harry’s mistress had asked Max to meet her soon about papers that Harry left for him. Now he muses about sexual attraction, the role of black artists as entertainers for the Dutch, the role of the Dutch in making the first sale of African slaves bound for North America, his rectal bleeding and pain, his impending death, and his feelings about Margrit. When finally he sees and calls to Margrit, he confuses her with Lillian, his first great love and loss, and he feels an unanticipated rush of love for his estranged wife. He hides his illness...
(The entire section is 676 words.)