Carrie, a business manager who always wanted to be a dancer, has two commitments today. She made a promise to her late father to move Cousin Ella, a former Paris café dancer, from her condemned Harlem apartment to a safe place. She’s also committed to catch a flight to Seattle with her husband for his new job. But Cousin Ella resists leaving the apartment where she’s had salons with Langston Hughes. She also has a mysterious gift that she wants Carrie to earn. If she does, a revelation about Carrie’s father and his cousin Langston Hughes will change her life.
This book is the story of an intersection: present day pressures of poverty and gentrification, crossing with the historical richness of music, art and dance in the age of America's best known African-American poet. Langston Hughes is not directly a character on the page; he's in photographs, and in the stories people tell. And what those tales amount to is an explanation that his brilliance was not a singular event, but occurred amid a ;large culture of creativity and celebration. The plot is that a young woman of professional ambition (her dream of being a dancer deferred and then abandoned) has the task of moving an elderly relative out of her apartment in a condemned building. The deadline for avoiding demolition is hours away. Yet that old woman has no intention of letting go of the past. Her memories are colorful and reckless and full of joy. Even the hardest times have a huge heart. The reader's experience is not unlike that of the young woman: We think the novel is about moving someone to assisted living. Actually it's about appreciating vitality from the past, because honoring that heritage makes the present livable. There are a few missteps, such as giving one side of a phone conversation, which veer toward cartoonish. But as the novel finds its footing, we don't want to leave that apartment either.
A wonderful book that transports readers back to the days that Josephine Baker strutted her stuff in Paris and Harlem was in its glory. Cousin Ella isn't quite as famous as Baker but she danced in Paris in that era until a tragic accident sent her packing back to to Harlem. Half a century later, her cousin Carrie promises her father that she'd help get Ella who is now in her 90's move into a retirement home.
Carrie too once had aspirations to be a dancer but her father who has recently died convinced her that a business degree was more practical and emphasized that he didn't her to end up poor like Cousin Ella. To please her father Carrie graduates from Columbia and settles for a fairly joyous marriage to a successful businessman.
A busy professional, Carrie chooses the day before she's moving to Seattle to help her cousin pack. With Ella's building being restored for new owners, Ella has little desire to move but no choice. Here Carrie learns how Ella had once hosted salons for their cousin Langston Hughes and other prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Carrie is also surprised to learn how her father frequented these salons and spent a great deal of time with Cousin Ella and her boyfriend.
Rushing to close on her condo before the Seattle move, Carrie finds she simply cannot leave to close in time. There are too many things to pack and too many picture albums and paintings to examine. Carrie also receives the surprise that her father told her Cousin Ella had for her. The surprise forces her to decide on where her true path lies. Although her dancing career had been thwarted, she finds it's time to find her true course in life.
Well written, this book brought back memories of the days when my daughter was at Columbia and worked on the Harlem Restoration Project. There's so much history in the pages of this book that I found it impossible to put down. I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review and I appreciate having had this opportunity.
Carrie Stevens is a successful 38-year-old woman of color living in New York City. Her life is comfortable. Maybe somewhat routine, certainly not the life she once imagined for herself, but nice. Nice and comfortable. Her marriage is... successful. She is selling her condo in New York and following her husband to his new job in Seattle in less than 48 hours.
All Carrie has left to do is move her last living relative, 95-year-old Cousin Ella, from Ella's apartment in Harlem and into a nursing home. Seems simple enough.
And all Sisyphus had to do was roll a boulder up a hill.
What Carrie encounters is a force of nature. Her late father's cousin has a mind of her own and she simply does not want to leave the apartment that has been her home for decades. Ella was once a dancer in Paris, a contemporary of Josephine Baker, a confidant of Langston Hughes and others. Her apartment was once a gathering place for some of Harlem's most famous artists and provocative thinkers. Now, many years later, they're all long gone but Ella remains the outsized personality who once served as both hostess and ringleader.
Carrie gets caught up in Cousin Ella's reminiscing and before it's all over she discovers things about her own family history, her father, and herself that she never knew.
Dancing With Langston is a good piece of literary fiction. Part coming of age story, part resurrection story, all heart.
***Thanks to NetGalley, Green Place Books, and author Sharyn Skeeter for providing me with a free digital copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
*Thank you to NetGalley and Green Place Books for the digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I soaked this up in a day!
WOW - this was fantastic storytelling. Perhaps my deep connection to the story, in part, stemmed from having lived in the neighborhood and maintaining personal ties to the streets, buildings, people, and culture; they were once my own. But Skeeter, with her brilliant craft, encapsulated the vibrant beauty and creativity of the Harlem Renaissance. As Langston's everlasting aura fills Cousin Ella's apartment, I can promise that Hughes and all the Renaissance greats continue to inspire and breathe through today's Harlem community. It wasn't until I finished the book that I realized we don't actually leave Cousin Ella's condemned apartment, and yet the reader is somehow able to, along with Carrie, explore the magic of Harlem through music and dance, artwork, and history.
By the time I finished this book, I knew these characters like they were my own family - I loved them - and I was holding onto those last moments in the apartment, too. I plan on purchasing this book and recommending it to a few friends who I know would appreciate it immensely.
A must read if only for the way the words are written and a loving insight into Harlem's past. We are enchanted with this book. It's a love story with memories of Langston Hughes, the Golden Age of Harlem thrown in and told through a fictional character. Captivating. Not so long before Harlem's gentrification, walking through the area was not a good idea or safe for some people. Now in this book we are invited in to listen to their stories and remissness with them. It's beautifully written with a plot you can't put the book down. Sit down with a cup of tea and have a nice read. The dishes can wait. More please.