From the award-winning author of Under the Udala Trees and Happiness, Like Water comes a brilliant, provocative, up-to-the-minute satirical novel about a young white man's education and miseducation in contemporary America.

A Greenlight First Editions Book Club Selection

A Radical Book Collective Book Club Selection

"Disarmingly funny." -
The New York Times
"Incisive and innovative"..... "Harry Sylvester Bird is a bildungsroman for our time: a coming-of-race novel.... [and] raises questions about whiteness, identity and its limits, and the psychology, politics, and culture of race. [The novel] utilizes a potent mix of satire and horror to produce the creeping uneasiness that infuses so much of the American psyche right now. Okparanta is also exploring a (or perhaps the) tension at the center of American Literature." -
The Washington Independent Review of Books
"A tart questioning exploration of how deep racism runs." -
"Inventive." -
Publishers Weekly
"Ambitious and daring." -
"In this oddly affecting novel..., Okparanta has laid bare some of our most vexing issues on race and identity, most notably those involving extremism and intolerance. Her unorthodox approach invites us — at our own risk — on an offbeat journey at once rattling and revealing." -
The Star Tribune


“Nigerian American writer Chinelo Okparanta hardly shies away from contentious matters. Her first novel, ‘Under the Udala Trees, deftly tackled gay love in Nigeria against the tragic backdrop of the Biafran War. When the book came out in 2015, writing about homosexuality appeared to be taboo among Nigerian writers. Today, it is almost trending, explored by prose and poetry writers in books and literary journals. Likewise, Okparanta’s latest novel, ‘Harry Sylvester Bird,’ is a forerunner of sorts...” - The Seattle Times


"Harry Sylvester Bird is a powerful story about the kind of racism that disguises as love and desire for black bodies, black life, and black pain.... The desire for racial metamorphosis is at the heart of the story. It opens a space where Okparanta examines the many forms that racism can take.... Parts of the novel are laugh-out-loud funny. The satire is deliciously biting. The pacing of the narration is perfect. The writing is spare and stunning.... [T]he (very) near-future speculative element in the story gives the novel its distinct feel.... [Harry Sylvester Bird] reprises the same bold elegance with which Okparanta engaged homophobia many years ago. With this new novel, she is still asking readers to confront the unexamined assumptions that blur their vision of the world." - The Herald

Harry Sylvester Bird grows up in Edward, Pennsylvania, with his parents, Wayne and Chevy, whom he greatly dislikes. They're racist, xenophobic, financially incompetent, and they have quite a few secrets of their own. To Harry, they represent everything wrong with this country. And his small town isn't any better. He witnesses racial profiling, graffitied swastikas, and White Power signs on his walk home from school. He can't wait until he's old enough to leave. When he finally is, he moves straight to New York City, where he feels he can finally live out his true inner self.

In the city, he meets and falls in love with Maryam, a young Nigerian woman. But when Maryam begins to pull away, Harry is forced to confront his identity as he never has before—if he can.

Brilliant, funny, original, and unflinching, Harry Sylvester Bird is a satire that speaks to all the most pressing tensions and anxieties of our time—and of the history that has shaped us and might continue to do so.Fourteen-year-old Harry — gentle, serious and a bit eccentric — goes on a life-changing trip to Tanzania with his family. After returning home to life as usual in rural Edward, Pennsylvania, Harry grows resentful of his white conservative parents and neighbors for their racist, xenophobic, and unsophisticated ways. Everywhere Harry looks, it seems he sees representations of what’s wrong with the country. When Harry finally leaves for college a few years later, he heads straight to New York City, to feel free. There, he meets and falls in love with Maryam, a young Nigerian woman. As their relationship evolves, Harry tries to embrace a new, Black identity in solidarity, with unexpected and sometimes outrageous consequences. In the process, Harry is forced to confront his whiteness in ways he never expected.


Funny, brilliant, provocative, and inspired by current conversations about identity and race, Harry Sylvester Bird is sure to cause the right kind of stir.


"Irreverent and compassionate at once, Okparanta interrogates our current moment. In her hands, humor is a weapon, a tool, and a salve. You will laugh until you cry, or maybe you will cry until you laugh." -- Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage and Silver Sparrow

"In her long-anticipated sophomore novel Harry Sylvester Bird, Chinelo Okparanta deftly slips into a new skin to deliver a scathing and incisive look at white America. A must-read for everyone committed to the work of anti-racism, Harry Sylvester Bird is both a delightfully unsettling and deeply necessary political text; a timely triumph of satire by one of our finest literary minds." -- Akwaeke Emezi, author of The Death of Vivek Oji

"Arresting, bold, and exactly the kind of book we need right now. Harry Sylvester Bird is haunting in the best way possible. It is truly thrilling to read such an unapologetic point of view from such a masterful storyteller." -- Angie Cruz, author of Dominicana

"Chinelo Okparanta is one of our finest writers, and Harry Sylvester Bird is her finest book yet: funny, moving, and (in the best sense of the word) incendiary." -- David Leavitt, author of Shelter in Place

"Chinelo Okparanta has written a biting, deftly written satire that throws into sharp relief contemporary politics around identity, race, and nationalism. Harry Sylvester Bird is an enigmatic narrator whose fumbling efforts at self-actualization and romance remind us of the universal struggle to know oneself and to be more than the prejudices we've inherited." -- Naomi Jackson, author of The Star Side of Bird Hill

"Chinelo Okparanta's new book has its finger firmly on the American zeitgeist. It is provocative in its look at race today, it is thoughtful, but most of all it is beautifully written." -- Helon Habila, author of Travelers and Oil on Water