Piri Thomas George Anderson - Essay

George Anderson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

For those familiar with Down These Mean Streets, reading Piri Thomas' new book, Savior, Savior, Hold My Hand is an interesting but disappointing experience…. [While] the former is strong and vital, the latter never really comes together as a living unified work.

Theoretically it is the sequel which should be the more powerful. It recounts the struggle in the early 1960's of a young Puerto Rican, embittered by poverty, drug addiction, prison and racism, to establish in his life some degree of unity and meaningfulness….

Accompanying his religious conversion is an awakening social consciousness which … leads him to accept a position as counsellor in a street club begun by another ex-con and convert to Christianity, John Clause.

From this point on, the story revolves mainly around Thomas' activities as an organizer among teen-aged blacks, Puerto Ricans and Italians, and the growing tension and ultimate break with Clause. An important sub-theme is institutional racism. (p. 500)

By the end of the book, disillusioned with churches in general and with the hypocritical Clause, Thomas has rejected organized Christianity altogether. Instead, he sees salvation as lying in the unity of the poor against their oppressors. (pp. 500, 502)

Despite such potentially powerful material, Savior, Savior never comes to life as an autobiography. It lacks the perceptiveness, the richness of detail, humor and rhythm of language found everywhere in Down These Mean Streets. There is a thinness of texture and little cumulative effect. The characters in the first book—especially Thomas' mother and father—stand out with a vividness which brings them as close as the next room. But the figures in Savior, Savior, Hold My Hand remain largely one-dimensional and shadowy. To know Piri Thomas for the brave and imaginative man of integrity that he is, one would have to go to the earlier part of his autobiography rather than to this later and inferior work. (p. 502)

George Anderson, "Book Reviews: 'Savior, Savior, Hold My Hand'," in America (© America Press, 1972; all rights reserved), Vol. 127, No. 19, December 9, 1972, pp. 500, 502.