I've been intending to read this book for some time -- and even put it on hold once at the library, picked it up, and didn't read it. This time, I reaI've been intending to read this book for some time -- and even put it on hold once at the library, picked it up, and didn't read it. This time, I read it and I'm glad I did. While it was not quite what I was expecting, it was wonderful.
The book consists of many short chapters, each a narrative in the voice of someone who lived in or passed through Northampton, Massachusetts, at some point in history. Some narrators, including members of the author's family, appear many times, usually over a long period of time. Other narrators appear one time or a few times, in a short burst. Narrators include historical figures (e.g. Calvin Coolidge), real but lesser-known people (e.g. Kitely's brother), and fictional characters. The "story" can seem disjointed, at first, but grows into a rich tapestry woven of many threads of story. Although there is not one single story arc, the book forms a cohesive narrative about place and the layering of history.
There are, of course, voices that are omitted from the narrative, whether consciously or not. Historical fiction is, by nature, selective. As a white, middle-class inhabitant of Northampton, I read this as a history of one of the Northamptons I inhabit -- the one in which I might be likely to cross paths with the author. There are, of course, other Northamptons and other narratives that deserve to be told, but I find that my appreciation for this book is not diminished by that awareness. This book definitely deserves a place in the list I keep of books that, collectively, tell the story of Northampton. ...more
Extraordinary book about race, slavery, Haiti and New Orleans, as well as what it means to be family, by blood, by fate and by choice. It begins in 18Extraordinary book about race, slavery, Haiti and New Orleans, as well as what it means to be family, by blood, by fate and by choice. It begins in 18th century Haiti (prior to when it was called Haiti) and ends in New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase. In the first part of the book, it chronicles the slave revolts that led to the creation of Haiti as the first independent black ("negro") nation. In the second part, it keeps Haiti in the background while following the main characters in New Orleans as it changes hands from French to Spanish to French again and finally to being under U.S. rule.
This book is one of the most fascinating pieces of historical fiction I've read--and since it's my favorite genre, that's significant.
I "read" this book as an Audible.com audio book and found it to be very engrossing, easy to hear and easy to follow. Since I'm hearing impaired, I find many audiobooks are too difficult to listen to, but this one was a pleasure. It was read by S. Epatha Merkerson (the African-American woman who has played Lt. Anita Van Buren on Law and Order)....more
I was expecting to enjoy this book as it was well-recommended, but I found that I LOVED it. It is one of the best books I've ever read. The writing isI was expecting to enjoy this book as it was well-recommended, but I found that I LOVED it. It is one of the best books I've ever read. The writing is beautiful, sense details lyrical and enriching, the story makes is clear and compelling. The author nails many aspects of the gender transition experience so well that I wanted to extract whole passages of it, to remember. Beautiful, beautiful book.
There were only two things, really, that I found flawed in the book. 1) Cal's epiphany moment of starting to identify as a boy is a little too easy, too lacking in self-questioning. Still, it fits with the rest of his story. 2) The reappearance of a supposedly-deceased character in the form of an actual elusive historical figure. I think this bit of whimsy took away from the book. Nothing else in the book read to me as "fantasy" or "alternative history" but this part totally did, and I think it cast a fantastic light over the following pages in a way that was out of synch with the realistic feel of the rest of the book. Maybe to a non-trans reader all of it feels somewhat fantastic, but to me it felt like this book was describing a very real experience.