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4.35 of 5 stars 4.35  ·  rating details  ·  1,220 ratings  ·  80 reviews
In this wise, beguiling, beautiful novel set in the era of the Civil War, an award-winning playwright and author paints a haunting portrait of a woman named Always, born a slave, and four generations of her African-American family.
Hardcover, 231 pages
Published December 1st 1990 by Doubleday (first published 1990)
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Published in 1991, Family is the first novel written by the exceptional short story writer, J. California Cooper. This historical novel begins during the antebellum period when the narrator Clara, who is a slave woman, suffers a tragedy and dies. Her spirit is left on earth to look upon her children, as she follows them throughout their life while they experience cruelty, mistreatment, love, and prosperity. The spiritual being of Clara follows a span of four generations of her family lineage, sp...more
This is the story of my family, and that of every African American family that had to endure such trying times. As I pass though the pages of this brilliantly written book, I thought to myself, how did she know this was me. Time after time we as African American living now forget what they people who struggle before us had to press on in order for us to be here. J California Cooper bring us t the front line, and she doesn't just take there , she walks with you, because what you are about to witn...more
Jenn McCollum
The novel was a very emotional read for me, as I am a very emotional reader. I had a difficult time focusing on critical elements of content and style because I was easily swept away in the affective purchase of the story. It was not a satisfying read for me; it tugged on my soul and made me feel miserable.

The narrative style was paramount for me because even after I finished the novel, I lingered on what happened to the narrator and why she struggled to "let go" and pass on. A narrator like her...more
Betty Jean
I would say the book answered my questions.I always believed Black people were originally BLACK... Black people are so mixed, that's why we come in so many shades of colors... I also believe that some white people with thick curly hair had someone black in their ancestors. I'm not trying to affend anyone, but when you read it, you'llprobably understand why I wrote this. I've been thinking about this so long and reading this book made me put some pieces 2gther... Other than that this book is very...more
Nardsbaby Reader
Always More

Clora, the granddaughter of a slave and a slaveholder, can no long accept her life as a slave. And, as her mother did, she chooses to escape slavery by committing suicide. Unfortunately, her plan to poison her children failed. They survived and Clora's spirit narrates their story.

Always, Clora's oldest daughter, was darker than her siblings. Sun, her brother, and Peach, her sister, were able to pass for white to escape to a better life. Always endured the misery of slavery.

Despite b...more
One of the most powerful books I have read in a long time. It's really easy to read (you can probably finish it one day) but it's the content that got me. Especially unique about this novel is the way in which it is narrated - from the perspective of an African-American mother who is looking down from a sort of limbo on her children who she has left as slaves. She watches them grow up and describes the torture they have to go through as they do. Overall a heartbreaking story about the African-Am...more
I had to read this book for an African American Lit class and loved it. The story is told from the voice of the mother who was a slave. One night, when everyone else was asleep, she took her kids out to the field behind the house and proceeded to poison them and herself. However, in an ill twist of fate, she is the only one who died so she spent the rest of their lives watching over them, telling each of their stories as the grew and experienced life without her.

This book is a tragic story in ma...more
I read this book many years ago. I actually did my final AP English presentation on Family. It is such a rich story. J. California Cooper is at her best a great story teller and this is an example of that. The language is lush and rich and immediately draws you in. Cooper tells the story of slavery through the eyes of a mother watching from above. I think that using this as the point of view was really clever. I think that this book is a great read and a quick read that I would especially recomm...more
Anna Halula-james
I had some friends who read the book that had trouble with the dialect, but this book is AMAZING. I think it should be required reading as nothing speaks to slavery like this book. The surprises and twists at the end of the book will not soon be forgotten; I remember them today as clearly as I did when I read the book which was quite a few years ago. I would recommend this book to everyone; it certainly will make you think of race relations in an entirely new way.
This book was recommended by a college professor who wasn't my instructor, but we shared a love for reading. Family was such a great book to read that opened all of your emotions, it made me smile and want to cry for the characters. In the end I was sad when the book ended and would love to have had a follow up book to Family to continue to track the lives of the characters.
This book has had a very profound effect on me. I have introduced it to many people. It is emotional and gritty and tells a story of struggle and perseverance against all odds (and sometimes failing in the most tragic manners). EXCELLENT story!

Also, I've read it umpteen times and I get emotional just thinking about this book!
Story of a slave woman and her “family”, Always, Peaches and Plum. Narrated by Clora, a spirit, mother of Always. Historical, somewhat, decent story.

What I learned:
Choose your children's names wisely.
This teacher is my favroite author! There's no lesson untouched in her work! Get up on her, because she's up there with Morrison, Angelou, Hurston and other Phenomenal writers. Classic, She is!!!
This book made me angry for all that people have suffered under the hands of folks with more power. But it was well written, with some wonderfully fulfilling plot twists! I finished it in a day.
Meeka Johnakin
EPIC BOOK!!! In the league with the BOOK/MOVIE Roots & The Color Purple!!!! Just when you think you heard everything, BAM! Excellent twists & turns.
Darnella Moore
Absolutely loved it! Cooper really brings you in to the African-American experience of slavery and survival during those horrific times.
The story begins with Clora who was born directly into slavery. Her mother commits suicide leaving Clora to fend for herself, who is forced to birth and raise her own children under the same circumstances. She opts to take the same route as her mother, though tries to take her children with her. [Un:]Fortunately the children live, though Clora dies. The story is narrated through Clora and she tells the lives of her children and her children's children through her eyes, her wishes, her desires, h...more
Jul 28, 2008 Erica rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone really
A great quick read. A story of triumph and tragedy told from the viewpoint of a ghost. A woman tries to save her children from sharing the same fate as hers, the dehumanizing and cruel life of a slave, and tries to poison her children. Unfortunately, she dies but is stuck in limbo and watches as her children try their best to serve the hardships of slavery and the years following the Civil War.

The book is touching and inspiring and what I really took from this story is that we are all family. We...more
After reading this novel it's very surprising that this book doesn't appear on "Book Club Lists" or as required reading for the School System. Although novel was written in 1991, I had not heard of this novel until early this year as recommendation from my library. The story is heartbreaking and yet uplifting. A definite must read.
Guy Choate
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I enjoy reading novels with a balance of narrative and dialogue. I did not find this balance in "Family." However, I loved reading this book about family, survival, love and triumphing.
Gwendolyn Dabney
I read this book years ago and loved it. I've read every book written by J California Cooper. This book was true to her style of writing, it pulls you into the story and holds you till the end, but doesn't leave you hanging.
The majority of this novel follows the traditional trajectory of a slave narrative, similar to Dessa Rose or other canonized texts. However, the author deals with the issue of racial phenotypes and gradations of color in a provocative way. The novel troubles popular understandings of racial signifiers, configuring racial identity as socially constructed and deeply unstable. Cooper's skill with short stories is evident in her nuanced character development, however it did not have the lyrical or i...more
This book was a nice surprise. It is not very long and which was good because when I started reading it I thought it was the most depressing book I'd ever read. The story is told by a slave woman who commits suicide out of hopeless desperation. She then oversees the lives of her children as they grow up near the end of slavery. Cooper's characters provide great insight into a horrible time. The last 3rd of the book really picks up with lots of great plot twists as well as the emancipation of all...more
Lorna Satchwell
I love this book!
I was unaware of this author until it was recommended by local author for Humanities reading. The effects of slavery through multiple generations and those it touched were told throough the eyes of a young slave woman who successfully commited suicide but failed to kill her children in a failed attempt to provide them an escape from abuse and forced servitude. The author provides moments of amusement while dealing with this harsh subject but the darkness penetrates into the readers being.
Izetta Autumn
Of late, I've been really enjoying J. California Cooper. Family, really a novella, at its short length, the novel is at first hard to adjust to because of the dialect used - but I liked this because it forced me into the world of the novel, immediately. I also greatly appreciated the twists that Cooper supplied as it really expands our ideas about what family means in a nation like the United States, in which some families once held each other in bondage.
Clora is such an interesting character. Through this book you watch her live as a slave. She is raped by her master and gives birth to a son at the same time as the master's wife. She switches the babies at birth and no one knows. She watches as the babies grow and how differently they are treated (one as a slave and one as the master's son). The book is narrated by Clora and it's a wonderful view into her mind as she processes her life situation.
Sep 25, 2007 Cindy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all my friends
This very short novel packs a wallop of emotion...a tragic tale of slavery from the lips of a dead slave keeping watch over her children, some of whom were taken from her. She follows their lives, cries at their miseries, laughs with pride at their victories. J. California Cooper writes in the manner which the people of that time spoke,and of the complex emotions of the races. Worth the read.
A wonderful and poignant read. The story is told by a slave woman who is so distraught at the thought of her children enduring the same hardships as she does tries to poison them and herself but tragically she is the only one who ended up dying. She is stuck in limbo and watches her children grow up and experience life without her
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Literary People: March 2014: Family 2 1 May 30, 2014 11:01AM  
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J. California Cooper first found acclaim as a playwright. The author of seventeen plays, she was named Black Playwright of the Year in 1978. It was through her work in the theater that she caught the attention of acclaimed poet and novelist Alice Walker. Encouraged by Walker to turn her popular storytelling skills to fiction, Cooper wrote her first collection of short stories, A Piece of Mine, in...more
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