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The Book of Harlan
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2016 alt.TOB (#2) The Books > The Book of Harlan

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message 1: by Amy (last edited Jul 18, 2016 08:02PM) (new) - added it

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments The Book of Harlan by Bernice McFadden

About the Book: (source: http://www.akashicbooks.com)
One of the Washington Post‘s Best Books of 2016 So Far
The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan’s parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he eventually becomes a professional musician. When Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are invited to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre—affectionately referred to as “The Harlem of Paris” by black American musicians—Harlan jumps at the opportunity, convincing Lizard to join him.

But after the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald—the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany—irreparably changing the course of Harlan’s life.

Based on exhaustive research and told in McFadden’s mesmeric prose, The Book of Harlan skillfully blends the stories of McFadden’s familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.

About the Author: (source: www.akashicbooks.com)
BERNICE L. McFADDEN is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels including Sugar, Loving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. She is a three-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of three awards from the BCALA. McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Book of Harlan is her latest novel.

Interviews with the author: Listen - Minnesota Public Radio. or Read It’s All Well + Good Magazine.

Twitter Handle: @queenazsa

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If you would like to chat about this book, or this author, here's a place to do so!

Happy reading!!


Drew (drewlynn) | 425 comments This is a wonderful story with great characters. Unfortunately, it is pushing the "anachronism button." (Which is what ruined Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet for me.) I know people in the south address women as "Miz" but using "Ms." in a conversation that took place in the 20s and 30s? Fine, they're pronounced the same, I can overlook it. But to say women took off their pantyhose as they were transported in cattle cars to Buchenwald? Really?! Pantyhose were the miracle invention of the 1960s. Nobody had them in the 40s although I'll bet they wished they did.

I'm not going to throw the book across the room. I'm too invested in the characters not to finish but every time I run across something like this it's like fingers on a blackboard to me. Just part of getting older, I guess. Younger people have no way of knowing the things we take for granted now are relatively new. I don't know how old Bernice McFadden is so maybe that's not the problem.

Don't let this stop you from reading the book. It would be a terrific read even if it wasn't based on real events.


message 3: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Drew - pantyhose was at least around as early as WWII because it was one of the items you could not obtain during the war (the nylon went to the war effort) and ladies took to painting the seams on the backs of their legs to pretend they still had them.


message 4: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Hmm or maybe I'm thinking stockings and actual pantyhose came later


message 5: by Drew (last edited Jul 28, 2016 12:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Drew (drewlynn) | 425 comments Amy wrote: "Drew - pantyhose was at least around as early as WWII because it was one of the items you could not obtain during the war (the nylon went to the war effort) and ladies took to painting the seams on..."

Stockings, yes. Pantyhose, no. Wikipedia (not my favorite source but probably okay in this case) has a lengthy entry on the history in the article on pantyhose. I can remember wearing stockings and a garter belt in junior high. Pantyhose was a huge step up in convenience and comfort!


message 6: by JoLene (last edited Aug 03, 2016 10:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

JoLene (trvl2mtns) | 7 comments I just finished listening to this. I thought the narrator did a fabulous job. I did wonder to myself on some of the language, because it sounded very modern (for example, when did people actually start using the f word). However I didn't notice the panty hose or Ms since it did sound like Miz which when I was growing up in New Orleans was the term we used for adults.

I did enjoy the story, but it was a bit different than I expected. I thought it would be a more focused story vs a look at growing up black in 20th century America. I did enjoy seeing the changing times through the lens of Harlan and the surrounding cast of characters. However, there were a few too many loose ends ..... I suppose that is the sign of a good book, that you want to know what happens next.


message 7: by Lark (last edited Aug 05, 2016 10:08AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lark Benobi (larkbenobi) | 136 comments This novel really puzzled me. I kept thinking: is this good writing? is this bad writing? because frankly McFadden breaks a lot of rules. The language is simple. The scenes at times are compressed into archetype. She name drops in a way that takes for granted I will know who she is talking about. Huge historic moments that any other author would take hundreds of pages to cover are finished up tidily in a few short chapters. Coincidence abounds. Unexpected exits occur of major characters.

And yet I really loved it. This is a complex feeling for me. Mostly as I reflect on my reading experience I'm left feeling that McFadden wrote a book that was perfectly in tune with the way I wanted to read this story. The parts she left out were parts I would have skimmed if she had written them. My ignorance of some historic figures made me aware of my ignorance without marring the story flow, and made me want to know more. Then ending and the way it ties into a possible explanation for how McFadden's own relative disappeared off the face of the earth was so very satisfying. Also the completely implausible payback that McFadden gives to Harlan--to a Holocaust victim--it might break all the rules of coherent storytelling, but it left me so satisfied as a reader!


message 8: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1104 comments Must. Read. Faster.


message 9: by Judy (new)

Judy (wisdomkeeper) | 80 comments poingu wrote: "This novel really puzzled me. I kept thinking: is this good writing? is this bad writing? because frankly McFadden breaks a lot of rules. The language is simple. The scenes at times are compressed ..."

I am glad to hear this. I once started Gathering of Waters, which is I think her first book, and I could not get past the writing so I gave up on it. Then was worried about reading this one.


Sarah (bazilli) | 7 comments Just finished the book, and am curious about what happened to Gwen and the twins? Maybe I missed it (was trying to read quickly so I could return it to the library on time), but their story seemed unresolved. Also, there was that newspaper headline that was super suspicious and troubling...


JoLene (trvl2mtns) | 7 comments Yep, that was one of the loose ends that bothered me.


message 12: by Lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lark Benobi (larkbenobi) | 136 comments JoLene wrote: "Yep, that was one of the loose ends that bothered me."

I think this is a thread that weaves into the real world of McFadden's family's past, and marks the moment when the real-life "Harlan" disappears from the author's family history. The entire novel is McFadden's exploration of how her (grandfather? I don't have the book in front of me) could disappear so completely from her family tree. Just as in the book, Harlan and the family go their separate ways, and in the case of the book, we as readers go with Harlan.


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