Book Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert
Author Clifford Browder, prolific in both his knowledge of New York history and its people, affords literary enthusiasts with another journey into historic New York with the fifth title in his Metropolis series, Forbidden Brownstones, a work which artfully portrays life from the perspective of its central character, Junius Fox. Purchase Here.
As a young black male living in mid 1800s New York City, Junius Fox and his family, although free, faced political, cultural and social constraints of a society stuck in the throes of the system of slavery. Living in a world alive with rampant instances of overt racism and easily provoked violence towards blacks created an overall environment for blacks living in New York at the time a struggle to thrive in and very often dangerous to live in.
However, Junius witnessed something shining in the midst of his limited life sparking a deep desire within him for the seemingly unattainable, a Brownstone. For Junius his longing for owning a Brownstone became an obsession since the age of twelve, when he became initially entranced by the enticing visage and mystery of the buildings, fomenting a desire that continued to burn within him into his adulthood. However, Brownstones were not owned by black people at that time, not even those considered Black gentry. Instead, the sought-after homes were only owned and lived in by the white gentry in the city, who refused to sell to monied blacks. Blacks could only work in the buildings. For Junius to own a Brownstone as a black man was a fantasy that he wanted as a reality.
Meanwhile, determined Junius was not deterred from his desires by his station in life. Alternatively, he sought to be the best, as he makes his way into the world of gainful employment through jobs available at the time. Eventually, fate brings him closer to finally satisfying his Brownstone obsession with finally working and residing in a Brownstone not once but twice.
Aside from working and living in the lavish homes, he also finds romance, gains invaluable insights, and learns lessons concerning the intricacies of life as a Black male. As well as insights into life for the white elite but most importantly he also learns that he can have power in a world where he thought he was powerless.
Overall, with Forbidden Brownstones, author Clifford Browder delivers an articulately, authentic and entertaining culmination of history and fiction ingeniously traversing a time in New York’s history within which, unfortunately, prejudice for black people abounded on many levels, even from Irish immigrants. I thoroughly enjoyed this adult-themed read; the story flowed easily, while the narrative provided as much food for thought, as it did historical tidbits. Additionally, as a character-driven story, I found myself engrossed from the story’s outset, as the interesting characters both historical and fictional, especially that of Junius were brought into focus. I heartily recommend this book as well as the others in the series they are all well worth the read.