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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction

Winner of the Gotham Book Prize

One of Barack Obama's "Favorite Books of the Year"

Oprah's Book Club Pick

Named one of the Top 10 Books of the Year by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and Time Magazine

Washington Post Notable Novel

From the author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird and the best-selling modern classic The Color of Water comes one of the most celebrated novels of the year. 

In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in South Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and, in front of everybody, shoots the project's drug dealer at point-blank range.

The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride's funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the White neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood's Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.

As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters - caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York - overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.

Bringing both his masterly storytelling skills and his abiding faith in humanity, James McBride has written a novel every bit as involving as The Good Lord Bird and as emotionally honest as The Color of Water. Told with insight and wit, Deacon King Kong demonstrates that love and faith live in all of us.

©2020 James McBride (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

Deacon King Kong is deeply felt, beautifully written and profoundly humane; McBride’s ability to inhabit his characters’ foibled, all-too-human interiority helps transform a fine book into a great one.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“A hilarious, pitch-perfect comedy set in the Brooklyn projects of the late 1960s. This alone may qualify it as one of the year’s best novels. However, McBride...has constructed a story with a deeper meaning for those who choose to read beyond the plot, one that makes the work funnier, sweeter, and more profound.” (The Washington Post)

“The sheer volume of invention in Deacon King Kong - on the level of both character...and language - commands awe.... And the sentences! The prose radiates a kind of chain-reaction energy.” (The New Yorker)

"McBride’s hilarious dialogue and an attention to detail reveals a complex local history. Capturing humanity through satire and witticisms, McBride draws everyday heroes." (Time)

Featured Article: The Best Black Audiobook Narrators to Listen to Right Now


A skilled performer has the ability to take the written word to new heights, infusing an author’s work with empathy, warmth, and excitement. And representation matters just as much for audio as it does for any visual medium: listeners should feel and hear themselves in art driven by powerful performers and authentic deliveries. We’ve gathered a few of the best Black audiobook narrators in the business and their can't-miss performances.

What listeners say about Deacon King Kong

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Masterpiece

5 star reads are a rare, so despite not really being drawn in by the editor’s description, I thought I’d give it a try. I was not disappointed. It has thoroughly developed characters, mystery and suspense, and at the same time is a social commentary on race, poverty and injustice.
In short, it is about a group of people living in a NYC housing project as drug lords are rising in power. So the background is a rather dismal gritty housing project. But the focus of the book is on a group of flawed, but ultimately loving and caring characters from all walks of life. It is both a social commentary on the injustices of society and the ability of human beings to love and care for one another despite it all. I would also recommend it for quarantine reading as despite the setting, it is an uplifting book. I am a voracious audible reader and have never read anything like this. Honestly, I don’t know how the author did what he did, but deacon King Kong is a masterpiece.
My only suggestion is that the reader was a bit slow for my personal taste, but I bumped the speed to 1.1 or 1.2 and it was perfect. The voices were great.

79 people found this helpful

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Me. McBride has done it again

Marvelous story. Dialogue, characters, history, sensitivity to the times. Narration beyond perfect. What a treat in these times.

30 people found this helpful

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Fantastic tale of real life, hope, and humanity

A wonderful story that I didn’t want to end. I listened after reading reviews of the printed novel that were careful not to reveal too much.
Without reservation, I recommend this story of sadness, joy, and a world of humanity, as well as being a tale of years ago in Brooklyn, New York.
The narrator added so much to this story. A perfect reader, he truly enhanced the book.

28 people found this helpful

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Best novel of 2020 so far

A masterpiece, full of wonderful characters who are both very human and larger than life. Dominic Hoffman’s voice acting makes 1969 Brooklyn come to life.

17 people found this helpful

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Rich writing, spectacular reader

Really fun but richly interesting. Could not listen at 1.25 as I often do because the reader, Domenic Hoffman left me feeling I knew them.

I have to comment on apparently good reader whom you discover does not interact with the material. They fool you. They read with inflection but the same inflection no meter what’s happening. I wish they could be labeled somehow.

14 people found this helpful

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On and On

I struggled with this book. To many words to describe items within. it seemed to go on and on and on.

13 people found this helpful

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5 Star Book

Truly beautiful novel. Wonderful textured characters, beautiful prose, and exciting plot. Everything you want in a book. Can’t wait to read or listen to it again!

12 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Great storytelling. Thoughtful and diverse.

This book has so many intriguing elements to it. It's a crime mystery that examines race relations. It's historical fiction with a glimmer of romance. It looks at the devastating impact that drugs have on a community, then turns to the hope and healing power of faith. McBride is a wonderful storyteller. The main plot centers around the question, "Why did the old church deacon shoot this teenage drug dealer?" and as that mystery unravels, many tender side stories start to paint a picture of the community in the housing projects of Brooklyn.

This story is humorous and heart-warming, but also painful. It exhibits longing in a number of ways - longing for the way things were, for those we've lost, for a way out and for true love.
I loved the book for these reasons, but in the end, I wasn't satisfied. The storytelling was long-winded and didn't have enough of a reward for me. Some of my favorite side stories never got an ending. I felt confused and wanted more closure and clarity.

Nevertheless, the storytelling (and narration) is so good ... I find myself still wanting to recommend it to friends.

11 people found this helpful

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I wasnt ready for it to end:

captivating characters, plot, good tempo, and great overall vocal performance.

I'd recommend this for anyone who likes a good story.

10 people found this helpful

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Must reading for anyone with Brooklyn connections

The writer truly understands what it is to be human. He has communicated this understanding brilliantly and lovingly.

9 people found this helpful