NO WAY BUT THIS: IN SEARCH OF PAUL ROBESON
When Sparrow describes his biography of Paul Robeson, the pioneering African-American singer, actor and political activist, as a “search”, he means it quite literally. Sparrow, a left-leaning writer who lives and works in Australia, traces the path of Robeson’s existence from Princeton, New Jersey, where he made his modest beginnings in 1898, to New York where he attended Columbia Law School, to London where he was embraced by the theatrical in-crowd, to Spain where he sang to Republican troops during the Spanish Civil War, and to Wales where he rallied protesting miners. On the way, Sparrow conjures up the ghost of this extraordinary figure, possessed of both enormous talent, political integrity, and charisma, who nonetheless struggled with a difficult marriage, a wandering eye, and, ultimately, Senator Joseph McCarthy. But it is the weight of his role as a representative of his race in America that gives this book such heft. He forged an astonishing path during an unspeakably racist era, well before the Civil Rights Movement had properly begun, when any achievement or mistake he made was automatically seen as emblematic rather than personal. This passionate biography is testament to a figure who deserves to be better remembered.