The Strange Bird

Graffiti Palace

9780374716714 fc
Hardcover, MCD × FSG, 2018

A. G. Lombardo

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A brilliant, exhilarating debut novel that retells The Odyssey during the 1965 Watts Riots—like nothing you’ve ever read before

It’s August 1965 and Los Angeles is scorching. Americo Monk, a street-haunting aficionado of graffiti, is frantically trying to return home to the makeshift harbor community (assembled from old shipping containers) where he lives with his girlfriend, Karmann. But this is during the Watts Riots, and although his status as a chronicler of all things underground garners him free passage through the territories fiercely controlled by gangs, his trek is nevertheless diverted.

Embarking on an exhilarating, dangerous, and at times paranormal journey, Monk crosses paths with a dizzying array of representatives from Los Angeles subcultures, including Chinese gangsters, graffiti bombers, witches, the Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and others. Graffiti Palace is the story of a city transmogrified by the upsurge of its citizens, and Monk is our tour guide, cataloging and preserving the communities that, though surreptitious and unseen, nevertheless formed the backbone of 1960s Los Angeles.

With an astounding generosity of imagery and imagination, Graffiti Palace heralds the birth of a major voice in fiction. A. G. Lombardo sees the writings on our walls, and with Graffiti Palace he has provided an allegorical paean to a city in revolt.

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  • “The Original Gangstas and their epigones, and their beats and their rhymes, showed us the hood in all its violent, sordid glory. Now Lombardo swings by, armed with a classically mythic view, to seize the moment and transect the terrain. He meets and greets all sorts at their best and at their worst. His thrilling, out-of-nowhere debut is as advanced as Hilary Mantel's is old-fashioned.”

    Howard Junker, author of A Total Junker

  • "An electrifying new voice in American fiction. A. G. Lombardo's wildly entertaining debut reimagines the 1965 Watts Riots as an Homeric journey through rioting cops, burning streets, CIA conspiracies and the potentially fatal semiotics of race and oppression in America. Along the way, we also run into Godzilla, Elijah Muhammad, the greatest taggers in the history of Los Angeles freeway art and a deadly fortune cookie war. Graffiti Palace is a stunning arrival, easily the most exciting book of the year.”

    Evan Wright, author of Generation Kill

  • "This is a book that’s as crazy and unpredictable as an urban uprising; it’s a phantasmagoric journey, written in precise and haunting prose, through a wounded and defiant city called Los Angeles."

    Héctor Tobar, author of Barbarian Nurseries and Deep Down Dark

  • “What an audacious debut: a novel that reframes The Odyssey as a journey across Los Angeles during the Watts Riots. Beautiful, hard-edged, challenging, and unexpected, Graffiti Palace recalls the linguistic exuberance of Thomas Pynchon while evoking the surreal landscape of a city under siege. At the same time, it never loses sight of the essential human drama—the desire, despite (or because of) everything that’s happening, to find a passage home."

    David L. Ulin, author of Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles and editor of Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology