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Four Spirits

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  1,286 ratings  ·  187 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 September 23rd 2003 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published September 1st 2003)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,387)
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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.
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
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 an essay but together they build a story that unfolds as slowly and as gloriously as a magnolia flower.
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
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
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
Chandra Power
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
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
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
Jun 06, 2008 Meredith rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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".
Chris L Rowan
I was listening to this book on CD as I was crossing the nation in a semi. When you drive for thirteen hours a day you get bored quickly. This story pulled me in quickly. The characters were realistic and true to the period. The Human Rights struggle is something I have always been interested in. As fate would have it, I was driving through Birmingham as it got to the part of the novel where the church was bombed. Being in the city as that was playing out was too much. I pulled over to the side ...more
Found it boring til the end. Chase scene in the snowy cemetery was haunting and scary.
Not nearly as good as I had hoped...left it on a plane and am not sad
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
Kristine Daniels
This is an intense read following several main characters and a number of minor characters through the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham Alabama in the early 1960's. It is based loosely on the experiences of the author, and many of the events and people described are historically accurate, some fictional. It spins the story out by recreating events seen through the eyes of the different characters, including a college-educated black teacher, a handicapped person, a Klan member's wife, a young ...more
Maureen :)
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
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
Chris Schmidt
Very true to history in Birmingham, Alabama, this book tells the story of Stella Cartright, a young white woman who becomes an advocate for civil rights in the '60s. The author, Sena Naslund, has done extensive research to keep what she calls her "fictive" story factually accurate, including familiar names and dates of significant civil rights events. Naslund's writing is beautifully specific and reminiscent for those of us who recognize the small details of childhood in the late '50s and early ...more
I really became engrossed in this story, and did not want the book to end. This historical novel is set in 1963-64 Birmingham AL. The book tells us about a year or so in the lives of several characters, all connected in some way, and all somehow enmeshed in the unrest of the civil rights struggle. The primary characters come together and grow by standing up for their beliefs, and we get a taste of the courage, horror, and death, as well as some personal victories.
"What can we do with our stories but tell them?"

"When we tell, or sing, or paint, or make a film, it gives humanity another chance. .......
To be.
A chance to have a different life. A chance to sympathize."
(p. 230)

I'm so glad that the author deemed to share this story. Thank you Sena Jeter Naslund.

"We bond and become one in understanding." (p.477)
This book is set in the early 1960's in Birmingham, Alabama, and recounts much about the early Civil Rights movement of that era, including the sit-ins, beatings, and bombings. The author has great descriptive skills, such as a passage that tells of the first time to put on a pair of pantyhose, of all things!!! And the telling of the "Four Spirits" of four little African-American girls (killed in a church bombing) as they visit and whisper with an elderly black woman, is magical. I really strugg ...more
Birmingham, Alabama, the early 1960’s, the Civil Rights Movement. Four Spirits interweaves the stories of a dozen different players in this critical time period. Each is a vivid portrait, bringing a different perspective to the events that unfolded – the marches, lunch counter sit-ins and the event that is the core of Four Spirits, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the Ku Klux Klan, in which four young girls died. The real life players, Martin Luther King Jr, Ralph Abernathy only ...more
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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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Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette Adam & Eve The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman: A Novel Sherlock in Love: A Novel

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“She seemed imprisoned in her sadness.” 39 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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