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Christopher Wilson book The Ballad of Lee Cotton
  • Categories:Gender, Book


A well executed, if slight, exploration of race and gender in mid 20th century America. Lee Cotton is a blonde, blue-eyed boy, born to a black woman in rural Mississippi in the early 1950s. In a rigidly segregated society, he grows up black despite the color of his skin. While his situation is inconvenient, as illustrated by the difficulties he has finding a seat on the bus (can't sit up front with the white folks, and it would be impolite to crowd a black person by taking a seat at the back), he is content to be black.

When he attempts to cross the color line, he is savagely beaten by Klansmen, an incident which separates him from his family and transforms him from a black boy to a white man -- a brain damaged white man -- living fairly well in St. Louis.

He is drafted for the war in Viet Nam and ends up being posted to a special unit in Nevada. After a car accident which leaves him with a grievous injury to his genitals, a drug addled, albeit brilliant, back alley surgeon transforms him into a beautiful woman. The second half of the novel details his adventures as he comes to grips with his transformation from black boy, to white man, to white woman; from straight man, to gay woman.

The author is british, and it ocassionally shows in his (mis)handling of american idiom ("tarmac" instead of blacktop or macadam, for example). And Lee's alleged Mississippi black dialect is sometimes cartoonishly broad. The novel is also burdened with genre cliches and stock characters -- a wise Uncle Remus (Lee's actual Uncle), a vicious white racist drunk reminiscent of Harper Lee's Bob Ewell, the title character's New Orleans mambo grandmother etc. -- but it is mostly well written and the characters are well drawn and believable.

The novel ends somewhat abruptly, without addressing one of the major recurring plot points, and leaving several story threads unresolved, but it is a quick and enjoyable read notwithstanding.

The book is not (as of this writing) available from a US distributor. I was able to purchase it from

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1 Comment: Christopher Wilson, "The Ballad of Lee Cotton"
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originally posted by uri on 2005-08-05, no edits, entryid=1405