Originally published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a story of a woman struggling to define herself and live her life independent of the desOriginally published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a story of a woman struggling to define herself and live her life independent of the desires of others. The tale is set in Florida in 1928. The woman is Janie Crawford. If I just told you this much, you would have a totally different idea of the themes of this novel. Now, if I told you that Zora Neale Hurston, the author, was a critically acclaimed African-American writer, you might immediately assume that her book would be about class and racism. And while those themes do play a role in Their Eyes Were Watching God, it is so very much more than that.
As in real life, our lives our shaped not only by the color of our skin (Janie's is "high yellow"), but also our sex, our background and the events that occur in our lives. Being a mixed-race woman, in the south, in the 1920's, from a poor family and raised by a grandmother who has definite ideas of what her granddaughter needs, Janie already is faced with obstacles. But Hurston's character is vibrant and determined to do exactly as she pleases. And that is one of the reasons this book is so impressive. In spite of her background and her struggles, Janie Crawford is a woman to be admired.
It is interesting to note that when this book was released, some of her peers (including famed novelist Richard Wright) dissed this book. He thought Janie's voice, which Hurston presents in the dialect of a poor black southern woman (which Janie was!) was somehow racist and demeaning to African-Americans. I imagine, if Janie Crawford had been a real person, would she have told Richard Wright that she didn't care two hoots what he thought of her. And I hope Zora Neale Hurston did too. The "black elite" were obviously too political and too racist themselves to see the strength and beautiful character of the protagonist Hurston created.
All of this is set amidst stunning prose and a story that has you sitting on the edge of your seat, laughing, emitting romantic sighs and shedding a few tears. Bravo! 4 1/2 stars....more
Written in 1929, The Blacker the Berry was a shocking novel in that it exposed, for the first time, the existence of racism with the black community.Written in 1929, The Blacker the Berry was a shocking novel in that it exposed, for the first time, the existence of racism with the black community. The main character, Emma Lou Brown, is a dark-skinned woman who struggles to find acceptance in a black community that prizes lighter colored skin tones. Leaving her home town in Idaho, Emma admits that she was the only black student in her high school. She hopes that her new collegiate life in Los Angeles will help her to find new friends, but instead she is shunned by fellow black students because of her very dark color. Simultaneously, she herself rejects those students whom she deems “not of her class” – ie, southern blacks who come to the school in order to better themselves.
As the novel continues, Emma Lou leaves California for New York City and the birth of the Harlem renaissance. Things aren’t much better here. The only job available to her is that of a maid, even though she has a college education and is able to do secretarial work. Apparently lighter skinned girls are preferred for those positions. She finds the same thing happens with finding a place a live and even in her personal relationships. But again, Emma Lou also perpetuates the discriminatory attitudes with biases of her own.
Like many “breakthrough” novels, this one was important, but not very well-written nor very interesting. Luckily it was very short....more
It is 1850. Honor Bright is an English Quaker, who accompanies her soon-to-be married sister to America.. Tragedy strikes. The sister dies following aIt is 1850. Honor Bright is an English Quaker, who accompanies her soon-to-be married sister to America.. Tragedy strikes. The sister dies following a short illness, and Honor is stranded in Ohio, with a not very welcoming community of Quakers.
The hardships faced by immigrants and pioneers alike are addressed by Chevalier, in this novel, that pits human compassion against self-preservation. Honor Bright cannot return to England, and as a single woman in a Quaker community she is only left with one choice: to marry. Her prospects are extremely limited.
This area of Ohio is also a major stop on the underground railroad. Many slaves come through on their way to safety in Canada, and even though Ohio is a free state, the Fugitive Slave Act has made many Quakers reluctant to help slaves, for fear of the legal repercussions.
This book does a wonderful job of presenting the Quaker community and the moral dilemmas faced by religious and non-religious persons in a secular world. Honor Bright, in trading the English Quaker community for its American counterpart, must come to terms with the fact that life in America is far different than the life she left behind.
I've always enjoyed Tracy Chevalier's novels, and this is no exception. Her details about Quaker life, the underground railroad and the history of quilting make this a worthy read. 3 1/2 stars....more
The story opens in post World War II Mississippi, where Jamie McAllan and his older brother Henry are digging their father’s grave. Jamie has returnedThe story opens in post World War II Mississippi, where Jamie McAllan and his older brother Henry are digging their father’s grave. Jamie has returned from the war a broken man, struggling to come to terms with all he has done as a bomber pilot, but mostly hiding from it with booze and women.
As the story progresses, we hear shifting narratives. From Jamie, the story is told from his brother’s wife, Laura, Henry and then from the Jacksons, black sharecroppers who work Henry’s land. An unlikely friendship develops between Ronsel Jackson and Jamie McAllan and also between Florence Jackson and Laura McAllan. Their attempts to find acceptance and understanding in each other turn into tragedy as the novel unfolds.
This was quite the page-turner from start to finish. It’s themes of racism and brutality, friendship and family, are just as important in the historical context as they are today. Given the simplicity of the prose, I would say it could pass as a young adult novel – but strictly for high school students given the content....more
In 1791, a young girl is orphaned when her parents do not survive the voyage from Ireland to Virginia. The ship’s captain promptly indentures her oldeIn 1791, a young girl is orphaned when her parents do not survive the voyage from Ireland to Virginia. The ship’s captain promptly indentures her older brother, but decides there’s nothing to do with the girl but bring her home with him. Lavinia is put to work with the slaves in the kitchen house and they soon become her new family. But there is a huge divide between the girl and the slaves. She is white, and although a servant, she will eventually be free to make her own way in the world once she is an adult.
From the first pages, I loved The Kitchen House! It pulls you in and keeps you there – forcing you to abandon everything in your life for want of reading the next page. The themes of slavery, race, abandonment and the struggle to belong are presented with a gripping storyline that tells us as much about our American past as it forces us to recognize portions of it that still exist today.
I thought Grissom did an excellent job researching the area and it’s history, but the end was a little too tidy for me. For many, that won’t matter, and honestly, it didn’t matter all that much to me either. Fantastic work of historical fiction and I highly recommend it!...more
The longer title, Behind the Scenes or 30 Years a Slave and 4 Years in the White House, is a more detailed picture of this autobiography of ElizabethThe longer title, Behind the Scenes or 30 Years a Slave and 4 Years in the White House, is a more detailed picture of this autobiography of Elizabeth Keckley. And while this does describe the woman’s background, it is not an accurate portrayal of what you will find in this book. Written in 1868, Mrs. Keckley does discuss her past as a slave, but she rushes through her history. She argues that there is happiness as well as horror in the life of a slave, and while she was clearly abused by some of her white owners, she was also well-loved by some.
Mrs. Keckley’s purpose in writing this book was not to present a slave narrative, however. For 4 years, she was the dressmaker for Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, working for her and also befriending her. In the aftermath of President Lincoln’s assassination, Mrs. Lincoln sought Mrs. Keckley’s help in selling some of her vast and expensive wardrobe, due to Mrs. Lincoln’s greatly diminished income. Mrs. Lincoln claimed she was on the verge of destitution. Although she tried to accomplish this quietly, the Mary Todd Lincoln was found out, and the public opinion of her actions was unfavorable. And so, Mrs. Keckley claimed to write the book in order to defend Mrs. Lincoln.
Not surprisingly, Mrs. Lincoln was not pleased to have her private life publicly displayed, and without consultation. Their friendship was severed, and while I found the book interesting, the public, apparently, did not. Behind the Scenes did not sell well.
The poor outcome of the book’s release began a series of negative events in Mrs. Keckley’s life, including the loss of her white clients and thus her formerly successful business. Eventually she retired in Washington D.C. at the National Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children.
While not a great work of literature, I did find it an interesting little read. 2 1/2 stars....more
“Someone bound my wrists behind my back and slipped a leather noose around my neck, which he tightened just to the point of cutting off my breath so “Someone bound my wrists behind my back and slipped a leather noose around my neck, which he tightened just to the point of cutting off my breath so I couldn’t scream and could barely breathe. Gagging, I waved wildly at the men. The noose was loosened enough to let me breathe. I was still alive. Allahu Akbar, I said. I hoped that someone would hear the words in Arabic and realize the mistake. But nobody heard me. Or cared.”
Kidnapped off the coast of Africa in 1745, and sold to a South Carolina island plantation, Aminata Diallo is a literate young black woman, who tells her life story in this wonderful novel by Lawrence Hill. There are many works of slavery-based historical fiction out there, but few are as well researched or have such a unique story to tell. I consider myself pretty well-read on the subject, but Hill taught me much about life on an Indigo plantation, how Jews were treated in the South during the 18th century, the Book of Negroes and the plight of Black Loyalists who were promised much by the crown, and delivered little.
This was absolutely one of my favorite books of the year! 4 1/2 stars!...more
“When the time had come, Ida Mae and little James and Velma and all that they could carry were loaded into a brother-in-law’s truck, and the three o “When the time had come, Ida Mae and little James and Velma and all that they could carry were loaded into a brother-in-law’s truck, and the three of them went to meet Ida Mae’s husband at the train depot in Okolona for the night ride out of the bottomland.”
Just last year, I was helping my middle schooler study for his social studies test. One of the questions was about The Great Migration. Quite frankly, I had never heard that term before. There was no question that black Americans left the South at certain times in history and tried to better their lives in the North. I just hadn’t been aware that it could be charted – that it was actually a phenomenon that ended in the 1970′s. They didn’t teach us about The Great Migration while I was attending school, probably because it was still going on or had recently ended.
Isabel Wilkerson’s epic work, The Warmth of Other Suns, is an attempt to describe why blacks left the south, what attracted them to the north, and what they found when they arrived. Wilkerson did this by conducting over 1,000 interviews, and by focusing on three personal accounts, in a narrative that is as engrossing as it is educational. This was a wonderful and enlightening work. Bravo! 4 1/2 stars!...more
Set in a narrative fiction, The Long Song is the story of a Jamaican slave, Miss July, told at the request of her adult son – a proprietor of a publisSet in a narrative fiction, The Long Song is the story of a Jamaican slave, Miss July, told at the request of her adult son – a proprietor of a publishing house. Miss July is a reluctant teller, but she certainly has a voice to savor with a charm all her own. We learn through her story that she was the product of a slave girl, Kitty, and the plantation overseer, Tam Dewar. As a child, she was snatched up into the plantation house and trained as a ladies maid and companion to the owner’s sister, Caroline Mortimer.
Having read and loved Levy’s Small Island, I was anxious to read this work of fiction. For me, The Long Song did not disappoint. Some of my Goodreads friends did not care for this book – Levy’s characters were accused of being insipid and the tone too light for such a serious subject matter. I appreciated hearing those comments ahead of time, and I read with a thought as to why the author might portray her characters the way she did. Miss July really came alive for me. In fact, she reminded me of a woman I have known and loved. She is charming and mischievous; and yes, she had a hard life, but she didn’t want to dwell on the tragedies. I felt that Levy understood that a real person, reluctantly telling a story so full of sadness, might want to downplay the bad events. To dwell on them would be to give into the despair, rather than showing that she had been able to come through it as a survivor.
Levy presents a novel that is well-researched – including the language used by Jamaican slaves (as is evidenced in her lengthy resource list at the conclusion of the book). She also shows a bit of the origins of the Jamaican class system, which currently favors lighter-skinned blacks.
In addition to all that, The Long Song is a moving and uplifting tale of a people who are able to retain dignity in the midst of enslavement. I can see why it was a finalist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize. 4 1/2 stars....more
In this memoir by the executive vice president and managing editor of CNN Worldwide, Mark Whitaker takes a look at his upbringing in a biracial familyIn this memoir by the executive vice president and managing editor of CNN Worldwide, Mark Whitaker takes a look at his upbringing in a biracial family, his struggles of coping with divorced parents, and his climb to the top in spite of his father’s substance abuse.
Whitaker definitely has an interesting story to tell. Both his parents were part of the university elite. With education as a strong value in the Whitaker household, the mixed-raced boys had an advantage over other children of color growing up in the 1960′s and 1970′s. However, Whitaker should have presented more of the history of the eras he covered, because it would have shown his parent’s achievements as rather extraordinary. Whitaker’s take on it was more of “that’s how I grew up,” rather than showing the true significance. The author struggles to come to terms with his relationship with his father, and appears to be at peace towards to the end. Perhaps he was too close to the subject matter, but it could have been more exciting and moving than Whitaker portrayed it....more
"Some men were still holding Pete tight from behind so that he couldn't even budge. But if Pete knew he was gonna die, the fear had left his face. T "Some men were still holding Pete tight from behind so that he couldn't even budge. But if Pete knew he was gonna die, the fear had left his face. Though Pete was just a boy, he must of been four to five inches taller than Norris. He just looked down at Norris, looked him in the eye. Most always we was supposed to look down at the ground when a white man was talking, and this seemed to set Norris off even more."
George Dawson was 101 years old when, together with Richard Glaubman, he agreed to write his autobiography. As a black man, Dawson had experienced much in his life, good and bad, and he was in a unique position to speak about history first hand. When Glaubman first approached him to do the book, Glaubman imagined an angry, bitter account of racism and segregation. What he found in Dawson was the exact opposite.
Dawson's attitude is one of acceptance. He says that hanging on to bitterness and anger gets in the way of enjoying life, and Dawson thinks that life is so good. He did not get the opportunity to attend school when he was younger, and for most his life, he went without knowing how to read. He was embarrassed about this, and so he kept it a secret. Then one day, when he was 98 years old, a man came to his door to let him know about an adult education program which would change all that. Dawson jumped at the chance, and inspired countless students with his eagerness to learn and his work ethic. Though Dawson passed away at the age of 103, a middle school in Dallas honored him by naming their school after him.
I so enjoyed this book. Dawson is humble and unassuming. And while he doesn't gloss over the truth of the hardships he endured, his kind and forgiving nature take the forefront here. People often look to centenarians with their questions about life, and I believe that George Dawson's life offers some concrete answers. This book is appropriate for young adults and anyone willing to sit and listen to the story of an amazing life....more
“The boy’s proficiency with needlework was clear from the first, and Pearl was surprised. Would Ridley have hired him out so reasonably if he’d know “The boy’s proficiency with needlework was clear from the first, and Pearl was surprised. Would Ridley have hired him out so reasonably if he’d known how skilled the boy was? He’d had practice taking instructions and following steps to the letter and he was agile and accomplished at simple sewing. Pearl realized right away that this little Gabriel was a competent hand for tailoring.”
The story begins when little Gabriel, a slave boy, is hired out to a Jewish tailor in Georgetown. It is a handful of years just prior to the civil war, and the nation’s capital is on the border between north and south. In Stand the Storm, Breena Clarke weaves a well-researched tale of a slave who strives to better himself and earn freedom for him and his family.
This book was a pleasure to read on so many levels. The story was captivating from the first pages. There is a tremendous sense of time and place in this novel. Clarke manages to capture the essence and struggles of a black family in this American city. There is so much wonderful history presented here. Despite having read quite a bit on the issues of slavery and the civil war, there was so much I learned reading this book. That’s quite a coup! Also, despite the travails, I didn’t find it a depressing book. In fact, I found myself cheering for every small success and grabbed on to the same hope that Gabriel did....more
It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it w It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was.
The plot of Invisible Man revolves around a young black man making his way in post World War II America. It is a world of racism and a world of change and new ideas. At the outset of the novel, the narrator gives a speech to a group of white men, extolling the virtue of humility. He is awarded a scholarship to a black college as a result of the speech, but first he must take part in a “battle royale” against several of his fellow classmates. Ellison continues to interject seemingly unbelievable situations and symbolism through the book.
If I had to rate this book on enjoyability, I’d probably only give it two stars. While it certainly isn’t difficult to read, an entertaining story and sympathetic characters were not high on Ellison’s agenda. On the other hand, the author’s message of identity manipulation by both the white and the black characters in the book, is profound. The rich symbolism of color, sight, light, the briefcase (aka the past and the narrator’s hopes), the “sambo” dolls (with strings attached) directs the reader to truths about bigotry. If I had to rate this book on a literary/intellectual level, I’d have to give it five stars. I’ve been thinking about it since the first paragraph and will continue to ponder it long into the future. It’s no wonder it won the National Book Award and not surprising it’s taught in high schools and universities.
In the end of the novel, the narrator explores the question of accepting the white man’s political ideology. Any race that has been subjugated in this country must ultimately face this question. The principles behind American political ideology are not racist, but many of the men that established them were. And over the years, there has been a huge display of hypocrisy between flag waving patriots, who also happened to be bigots. In Invisible Man, Ellison deftly shows that hypocrisy is not exclusive to white supremacists. In the end, the author resolves that the highest principle we can strive for is humanity itself. Invisible Man truly is a great and important novel; probably worthy of five stars, but I can only give it four and a half stars. It simply wasn’t enjoyable enough for me....more
“On the sickbed there was no difference between man and woman, white and colored, rich and poor. The rich man set in his Yankee ways held out his ha “On the sickbed there was no difference between man and woman, white and colored, rich and poor. The rich man set in his Yankee ways held out his hand to death like it was a done deal between gentlemen…”
Crossing Bully Creek is a story about a plantation owner and the people that played a part in his life and his land. It begins with the owner, Henry Detroit, dying and the year is 1969. Throughout the novel, each chapter relates the point of view of the different characters, and also different time periods, from 1929 through 1969.
Margaret Erhart, the novelist, is a New York City native, who spent winters in the deep south. She uses her personal experiences to draw out the main character, who is also a Yankee transplanted to the southern United States. We see changes in attitudes towards people of color and changes in the way they view themselves, during the course of this book. Obviously, the subject matter is important and there is a story to be told. Erhart received the Milkweed National Fiction Prize for Crossing Bully Creek.
Why then, didn’t I like this book? First, the characters were hard to follow. Most of the time I didn’t know who was who. Even by the end of the book, I could barely figure out who was black and who was white. The author employed the use of poetry/prose for the first half of the novel. Sometimes it was lovely and appropriate. Other times it seemed overdone and just the made it hard to follow the story. The second half was better. Erhart let up on the overuse of prose and things made more sense to me. Another reason I didn’t care for the book, was because I didn’t care for the characters. The author took me to a place that I really didn’t enjoy and not even people I met there could make up for it....more