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Four Spirits: A Novel

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  1,478 Ratings  ·  215 Reviews
Weaving together the lives of blacks and whites, racists and civil rights advocates, and the events of peaceful protest and violent repression, Sena Jeter Naslund creates a tapestry of American social transformation at once intimate and epic.

In Birmingham, Alabama, twenty-year-old Stella Silver, an idealistic white college student, is sent reeling off her measured path by
ebook, 560 pages
Published March 17th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published September 1st 2003)
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I really enjoyed much of this book but felt that it tried to do too much. It tried to address too many issues at once, and there were so many characters that it was difficult to get to know any one character in depth. Although Stella is in a sense the main character, she felt kind of superfluous to me and her story seemed to detract from the rest of the book. I think this author's writing is lovely but I wish this book would have been more focused.
Clare Savage
I did not like how this book was written. I was expecting more of an impact of the 4 little girls to be played out with the characters. I often put the book down for periods of time because it did not flow well. Although, it represented some of the feelings of the south, I was expecting more. I wanted more of an immigrant/religious perspective of growing up at this time. This would have been more of my family's story than the author's, but it is a huge part of Birmingham, AL history.
Feb 18, 2011 Cindy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really great novel. I'll quote from the author,

"When I was a college student in the early sixties in Birmingham, Alabama, I promised myself, if I ever did become a novelist, that I would write about the acts of courage and tragedy taking place in my city. I would try to re-create through words what it was like to be alive then; how ordinary life went on, how people fell in and out of love, how family members got sick, how people worked ordinary jobs, tried to get an education, worshiped, looked
Nicole D.
May 26, 2015 Nicole D. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

When I picked this book for my book club I knew it was topical. I knew we (as a nation) need to focus our attention on the racism in this country and one way to do that is to remind ourselves what we've already been through. When I picked this book for my book club, the shooting in South Carolina hadn't happened. And the Confederate flag was a mostly forgotten relic gently flapping its message of hate at a state capitol building, and sparking the fire of racism in some southern
Jan 19, 2012 Kathleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Naslund and Zafon are, officially, tied in my mind as the best living writers. This book entered my mind with its story and my heart with its characters from the beginning - and now I'm a wee sad that I am finished with both. Although I'm not sure if the story is 'finished' with me. This historical-fiction was set during the time that I was about 12-15 years old. I was raised next to - and went to high school in - the south side of Chicago. Those four girls dying in that church bombing, the lunc ...more
Chandra Power
Jun 25, 2009 Chandra Power rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone needs to read this book. This is the story of a variety of characters confronting racism, their own prejudices, and the horror of the violence during the Civil Rights movement. The title refers to the souls of the four children killed in the Montgomery church bombing. There are no easy answers in this book, and all of the characters are finely crafted and very human. No larger than life, stereotypical portraits, here. Two of the most interesting, although unsettling at best, characters ...more
Mar 01, 2010 Rod rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: damngoodread
This thoughtful, gentle book moves at the pace of the south itself in illustrating the civil rights movement from many perspectives. Each little chapter could stand alone as a short story but together they build a story that unfolds as slowly and as gloriously as a magnolia flower.
Jun 30, 2009 Sharyl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Four Spirits is dedicated to the four little girls who were killed in a church bombing on September 15, 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley's memories are a constant sorrow and motivation for all of the characters in this novel by the beautiful writer Sena Jeter Naslund, who grew up in Birmingham and promised herself, at the time, that she would one day write about the scary and sad events that engulfed Birmingham during the 1960s. ...more
Jul 05, 2010 Tra-Kay rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This book is quite a mess and could have stood to be halved. Most of the first near-300 pages are a mixture of clumsy failures at introspective, beautiful writing, and extended vignettes about various characters, much of which adds nothing to the story. I can't remember the last time I was so disappointed in a writer, but if not for my love for Ahab's Wife, I would never have kept reading.

Around the time Cat and Stella start teaching, the book picks up, and thankfully maintains momentum until th
Ann Marie
Aug 29, 2015 Ann Marie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think the Spirit moved me to pick this book up again after more than 10 years. Anyone who cares about race equality in America will want to read this. I was literally moved to tears and sickened at what has happened to people in America.
I bought Four Spirits after I read and enjoyed Ahab's Wife by the author. Oddly, I came back to it at a point when there is an increase in racial tensions. Sena Jeter Naslund creates fiction based on real events and her own experience in Alabama in the 1960's a
Ashley W
Sena Jeter Naslund’s book is roughly 500 pages and I’ve read it in little more than a day because I could not put this book down except to eat and sleep. Four Spirits is about the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama, and it basically starts with the horrific bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church which killed four innocent little girls of which this year is the 50th anniversary. That being said, it is filled with disturbing and depressing images, but it doesn’t make it any less ...more
Dec 22, 2007 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The "Four Spirits" referred to in the title of this book are the four young girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. (Or are they? By the end of the book I was thinking the title could refer to four other "spirits.") Although the bombing is a major event in the book, though, I wouldn't say that this book is "about" that bombing. Rather, it's about what it was like to live in Birmingham during the struggle for civil rights, for black and white citizens, alike. And boy ...more
In early 1960s Birmingham AL the growing (and increasingly violent) civil rights movement forges unlikely bonds between people, both white and black. Naslund tells the story of two tumultuous years (1963 and 1964) through the viewpoints of several characters, including both black and white college students, a middle-aged black couple, and an abusive, racist white couple. In the first part of the book the desire to cover ground from each viewpoint really seemed to slow things down. By the second ...more
Feb 05, 2008 Meredith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
I would actually give this 3.5, but that's not an option. Before picking it up, I'm kind of ashamed to say, I knew absolutely nothing about the Civil Rights Movement. Like, zero. Thank you, Connecticut public school system. This book helps you get a grasp on it through the narrative, without seeming too textbook-y. My main problem is that every character is a super cliche -- redneck racist angry young klansman wants to blow up black people; strong, take no shit black woman takes no shit; liberal ...more
Dan Chance
Feb 15, 2012 Dan Chance rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hist-fic
Mrs. Naslund startled this reader with her tremendous vocabulary and delighted him with her clear imagery of people like the KKK bomber and his wife. The period was one I had lived through though from the safety of Georgia and being a member of the white race. I had not concerned myself with the day to day happenings in the civil rights movements so her description filled in many gaps for me. Though fictionalized in that fictional characters interacted with real characters it created a "real" em ...more
This novel was set in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights movement. I picked this book because I wanted to read and learn more about this time period in American history. The author did not focus on one or two characters, instead the chapters were told from 20-25 different characters, different civil rights organizers and marchers, KKK members, business owners, church leaders, children, policemen, etc... I guess to get a feel for how the civil rights conflicts impacted all lives. While I ...more
Sena Jeter Naslund has such a gift of making historical fiction so informative while ensconced in a story that captivates you with its plot and emotionally grabs you with its characters. A book such as this one speaks volumes for the case of including historical fiction along with textbook learning in schools. As Naslund was herself a college student in Birmingham, Alabama in the early sixties, she is well qualified to write about the civil rights movement and surrounding events in Birmingham du ...more
Jun 07, 2009 Robyn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book when I lived in Birmingham, and picked it up because I missed Birmingham. The characters are weird, sometimes a little flat, and hard for me to relate to. A little Dickensonian in that she wants to telll you about everything that's happening in Birmingham at this time. I thought the characterization overall sucked, but I still finished it, so it wasn't that bad. She should have written this as memoir, not as fiction. It would have been infinitely more interesting to see her ow ...more
Nov 22, 2011 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book because of the author's ablitity to write as a male, female, black, white etc. The different chapters and each perspective keep you aware of all sides of the civil rights movement. I felt like I was reading about real people. The relationships, the conversations, and even the personal thoughts seem so real. I was again impressed by Naslund. Her writing style is dramatic, and true, but it's also to the point. The details are delicately described; portions of the book could be considere ...more
Jun 23, 2009 Liz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What to say about this book? It was about the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960's in Birmingham, Alabama. While I already knew about this time in history, it was really horrific to read about it on a more personal level (at least it felt personal to me). It makes me sick to think of how people were treated and how such terrible acts were allowed to be committed against the black people. This book had some really difficult issues and I had to skip over some parts as I just couldn't bear to ...more
Jan 05, 2010 Kirstin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was fascinated by an up close look of Birmingham, AL in the 1960's through the many voices of the characters - - - black and white, young and old. The author was a college student there at the time and promised herself that if she ever became a novelist some day, she would write about "the acts of courage and tragedy taking place in my city." The civil rights movement came alive for me in these pages.
Although I did learn more about the context of the Birmingham bombing, fewer characters with more depth would have been preferable. Oddly, despite some graphic descriptions of the violence, the book came off as "fluffy".
Aug 22, 2007 Julia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not nearly as good as I had hoped...left it on a plane and am not sad
Jul 11, 2009 Mary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Found it boring til the end. Chase scene in the snowy cemetery was haunting and scary.
Brian Bess
Six degrees of integration

First of all, the title of this review is not original. It is borrowed from the New York Times review of 'Four Spirits' by Will Blythe and was as perfect a description of the intersecting lives of characters in this historical novel set in Birmingham during the turbulent years of racial strife, 1963-64. In this novel, Sena Jeter Naslund is attempting to weave the destinies of at least a dozen characters on different points along the civil rights spectrum in Birmingham d
May 13, 2017 Jane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because I read Ahab's Wife and loved it. Although this book is about a very important part of American history the story is very uneven and therefore disappointing. I was in high school in New York during the 60's and remember the civil rights era very well.

There are too many characters intis book and none are truly memorable. If the author had focused on two or three major characters this book would have been much better.
May 12, 2017 JJ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: civil-rights
This is an excellent book. It's very well written. I think every book club should read this book. There is a lot to discuss in the book. It has a very rich storyline and a wealth of different characters. It reminds me of the way "The Poisonwood Bible" was written. It has the different viewpoints of multiple characters. I wish my Race and Relations class in college had to read this.

His novel is very important to understand how the average John Doe lived during this period of time. Coming from the north and not being quite old enough to remember these events this novel brought that period alive for me
Jun 15, 2012 Wfbcreeds rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the acclaimed author of the national bestseller Ahab's Wife comes an inspiring, brilliantly rendered new novel of the awakening conscience of the South and of an entire nation. Written with the same scope and emotional depth as her previous award-winning novel, Four Spirits is set in Sena Jeter Naslund's home city of Birmingham, Alabama, a city that in the 1960s was known as Bombingham. Naslund brings to life this tumultuous time, weaving together the lives of blacks and whites, civil right ...more
Maureen :)
Nov 08, 2010 Maureen :) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
one of my favourite all time books.....civil rights movement era, told by all characters experiencing the times from their white, disabled white, black, kkk, wife of kkk, not often a book makes me cry.....wonderful wonderful wonderful...

authors words.......

"When I was a college student in the early sixties in Birmingham, Alabama, I promised myself, if I ever did become a novelist, that I would write about the acts of courage and tragedy taking place in my city. I would try to
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Huntsville-Madiso...: Staff Pick - Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund 1 7 Jan 24, 2016 12:49PM  
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Sena Jeter Naslund is the New York Times best-selling author of five novels, including Ahab's Wife (1999) and Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (HarperCollins, 2006). She is currently Distinguished Teaching Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of Louisville and program director of the Spalding University brief-residency Master in Fine Arts in Writing. Recipient of the Harper Le ...more
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“She seemed imprisoned in her sadness.” 43 likes
“I'm sorry to burden you,' she said. She felt like a crybaby.
'What can we do with our stories,' he said, 'but tell them?”
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