Neil J. Smith delivers a powerful tale that lingers with you in “On the Ropes.” A realistic view of the sixties, the story follows the trials and tribulations of aspiring Olympic boxer Percival Jones as he deals with the aftermath of significant events in his life. From hearing the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to dealing with issues regarding the mother of his son, the author offers a no-holds-barred approach to a black man’s experience in America.
The book is full of distinct imagery combined with Smith’s mastery of words. He evokes a pain that many people can relate to: From constantly proving your worth to having your dreams disappear in a flash. The collective experience of being black in America is as unique and relevant as it is today. While the story takes place in the sixties, there is no doubt that readers would find the life of Percival Jones as relatable as today.
Apart from the author’s mastery of words, his realistic yet humane depiction of the characters featured in the story should also be applauded.
Whether you love or hate them, Smith could delve deep into the motivations of such characters with sympathy and finesse—a talent that only a few writers can achieve. He doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities, but he doesn’t dwell on the hopelessness of the situations entirely either. Like a boxing expert, the author delivers each line with precision, tact, and power. Every line is delivered deliberately, and like any great sportsman, he makes it look effortless.
In summary, I would suggest this read to people looking to expand their reading shelves. Regardless of your age or what generation you came from, “On the Ropes” offers a complete package of everything a modern classic should have.
– The Moving Words Review
Official Entry: The Most Moving Book Award, Jan. 2, 2023
“Your book–colossal power, sharp, spot-on writing. Issues of rape and fratricide are explored with the dialectical seriousness that echoes Old Testament and Dostoyevsky. You break through the ‘cool’ that infects our modern world and show the human soul in deepest wrestling with itself.”
– William Packard, late poet, editor, professor, playwright, and writer
“This book is perfectly suited to the times we are in even though it is set in another era.”
– Tony William Jones
“Mr. Smith deftly balances the worst impulses of man, with deep, heartfelt love and honor.”
– Babara Luviene
“It kept me riveted from the very first page. Rich in imagery and depth of feeling and insights…”
– Giovanna, Goodreads review
“On the Ropes is a book of strength, the fight for social justice, and the overcoming of all sorts of impediments. The writing is incisive and bold, heartfelt and piercing, and it speaks to the striving of the human being, no matter what or who the adversaries are. It has a great deal to teach us about prejudice, suffering, disappointments, prevailing and conquering. On the Ropes is deeply personal but deals with grand human themes, especially here in a deeply divided America, rife with racism and injustice. The socio-political issues are addressed head-on. Poignant and powerful right to the last page — and beyond.”
– Eric, Amazon review
“An ex-boxer and an organizer for The Black Panthers, Neil J. Smith has written a gripping and informative portrait of the 1960’s. A page turner, his writing is extraordinary and beautifully crafted. Each paragraph is a tour de force of poetic and emotional description. He gets you right into the head of Percival, the boxer and main character. Then we jump to the death of Dr. King and the riots. We encounter Rufus, a Vietnam vet and a plethora of characters, so authentic that we know that the author has been there. A poignant and timely novel, with great insight into a time the author knows well. The novel arrives at a crucial time for America and the history of Black Lives Matter.”
– Marianne Van Lent, Goodreads review
“A master story teller. He captures the essence of each character and brings each one to them to life through the written page. A fascinating work that relives the sixties again for those who once lived them. This book is provocative, aborbing and intelligent!”
– Lucille Swarns, Goodreads review
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