In this ambitious, effective novel, acclaimed author Julius Lester "re-conceptualizes" one of Shakespeare's best-known plays, giving readers a fresh look at its complex themes of race, love, friendship, and jealousy. A new setting and a radical recasting show Iago and his wife to be African immigrants who have come with their friend Othello to Elizabethan England. Race, therefore, is not an issue that separates Othello and Iago, but rather one that unites them. Far from being removed from the book, however, race as part of the immigrant experience continues to affect each of the character's actions and motivations. Following, as the play does, Iago's influence on Othello's courtship, marriage, and eventual murder of white Desdemona, Lester's novel focuses attention on human weakness and the vital issue of perception versus reality.
Lester, author of the Newbery Honor Book To Be a Slave and many other books that focus on African and African-American issues for young readers, tells his story in eloquent language that is a skillful blend of paraphrasing and quotations from the original. The latter are printed in a different typeface, for easy reference. Readers who may be resistant to the perceived difficulty of Shakespeare's language will find themselves drawn to its rhythm within the "safe" context of more contemporary, straightforward prose, making Lester's Othello a useful stepping-stone to Shakespeare. Yet the book also stands on its own as a powerful work of young-adult fiction.