Set in the invented Mississippi Delta town of Madagascar, Cynthia Shearer's "The Celestial Jukebox" depicts a rural South dependent on agribusiness and the fruits of some less attractive forms of capitalism--gambling and other vices. Into this world comes Boubacar, a fifteen-year-old African boy joining friends from Mauritania already living in the area. They are new African blacks not especially noteworthy in a town filled with Chinese emigrants, African Americans within memory of slavery, and straggling members of the original white families of the area. Presiding over Madagascar is Angus, the second-generation Delta Chinese proprietor of the Celestial Grocery, and his vintage jukebox with its treasure of Slim Harpo, Sam Cooke, and Wanda Jackson songs.
The ties that bind the lives in this community together are American roots music and the desire to make a home in the rural South. The purity and beauty of Cynthia Shearer's writing--like the purity of music that exists within this story, an imagined soundtrack of more than thirty songs--marks "The Celestial Jukebox" as that most rare book, a novel as historically expansive as it is intimate, filled with music, wisdom, and spontaneous joy.