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Brothers and Keepers and Wildman

Brothers and Keepers is a superbly written exploration into one mans quest to understand his family and his return to his roots to find the answers.  John Edgar Wideman’s autobiographical account attempts to understand why he and his brother Robby have taken drastically different paths in life. Wideman took the scholarly road while his brother took a path that eventually found him in prison, wrongly accused of murder.  Wideman’s lament of the book is that he fled the black community of Homewood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and abandoned him emotionally at a time when he may have made a difference in Robby’s life.  The book is an account of his journey back to his brother in the three sections entitled “Visits”, “Our Time”, and “Doing Time”.

Brothers and Keepers

Brothers and Keepers


In “Visits”, Wideman tells of his departure from Homewood and his struggle to become autonomous from Robby and the community Robby represents to him. In this beginning section, it is Wideman that asserts that Robby does not work hard enough or take his life seriously enough. Yet Wideman holds out that it is just a phase.  He believes firmly that Robby is much like he is and will come away from his troubled phase, just as he did, and straighten out his life.

“Also, Robby was my brother, meaning that his wildness was just a stage, a chaotic phase of his life that would only last till he got his head together and decided to start doing right. Doing as the rest of us did.  He was my brother.  He couldn’t fall too far… I viewed his troubles, when I thought about them at all, as a form of protracted juvenile delinquency, and fully expected Robby would learn his lesson sooner or later and return to the fold, the prodigal son, chastened, perhaps a better person for the experience”.

Wideman and Robby

However, Wideman wasn’t around for all the antics that wore on his mother and their family, like syringes under the bed and not coming home at night.  He admitted not really knowing how bad things really were.

Wideman assumed that Robby was much like him, and he was, but not in his ability to rise out of Homewood.  Robby did not have a career of writing to escape into and create a whole other life for himself, as Wideman did.  Through the second section of the book, Wideman uses his talent in writing to give Robby a voice as to why he ended up where he was.  Wideman’s and Robby’s voice merge into one by the end of the second section in a literary style that suggests congruence of thought and oneness in message.

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