John Edgar Wideman is a contemporary Afro American author who was born in Washington D.C. and lived in Pittsburg, Philadelphia. As an outstanding scholar and he is well-known for his intricate literary style for his novels concerning experiences of black men in contemporary urban America. His award winning novel is “Philadelphia Fire” which deals with the 1985 police bombing of a West Philadelphia row house owned by the Afrocentric cult Move. “Brothers and Keepers” is a moving autobiographical story by the writer who one day suddenly finds his baby brother Robert Douglas Wideman incarcerated at the state penitentiary in Philadelphia serving a life sentence.
The book centers entirely on the author and his imprisoned brother and as the story unfolds he reveals his inability to understand what went wrong and tries vainly to find out the reasons which led his brother to commit the irreparable damage that disrupted his life. The visits are regular sometimes with the whole family including his mother and his wife and children but for the most part he visits his brother alone. The main storyline is continually interspersed with short sketches and emotionally resonating narratives of the contrasted lives of two brothers who were brought up together. The anecdotes are a wonderful blend of flashbacks of his brother ‘s former days at home in Pittsburg and the everyday life in the jail which reveals little by little the life of the young man before and after his imprisonment. This is structured by the author taking notes on his visits while his sibling Robert Douglas Wideman also writes about his efforts to study and reveals the hope and disappointment of a prisoner misunderstood and confined to his cell with no hope of release. These reminiscences are filled with joy and sorrow mingled with a lot of disappointment and bitterness. A gripping tale of two estranged” brothers” who come closer and closer to one another during these short but heart-rending visits watched and controlled by the “keepers” of the penitentiary. The novel’s blend of realistic narrative, incisive social commentary and psychological complexity shows a keen analysis of the American social fabric.