A Lesson Before Dying

I am taking a brief step away from my black female literary reviews to discuss a book I read as part of my CFUH Book Club.

We have met each month since the summer of 2008 to read books across genres that have helped us facilitate discussions on race, class, ethnicity, and diversity in our little community that was struck by an unspeakable tragedy.

It is that tragedy that was a part of our minds and my depression yesterday.

A Lesson Before Dying is not a happy book.  It is deeply human in the emotions evoked by the haunting prose of Ernest Gaines.  He took us back in time to 1946-47 rural Louisiana, the back country where the plantations were still supreme.  We all thought Ernest Gaines was channeling his own experience as a young man in the form of Grant Wiggins, the one room school house teacher whose aunt basically guilted him into "making a man" out of Jefferson who was sentenced to die.

I appreciated Gaines' form and the short chapters, it would have been too much to take had the prose been longer than a few pages, the 31 chapters were short and sweet.  I hurt for Grant's dilemma of being stuck and Jefferson's emotional state of being stuck.

Hate and injustice was what put them both in that situation and in some ways, still fills the air we breathe in 2012.

I was just so exhausted from it all when I walked into book club last night.  When is it enough!

The powers-that-be, the lucky ones that my husband told me last night was no such thing, were the ones who sat on that jury of twelve white men and condemned an innocent man to death because a white man died at the hands of other white men, but someone had to pay.

Why do they hate us so much?  The underlying question of issues of race and class.  Why can't we all just live and exist? Why do they want to destroy our esteem and sense of being?  Why was constantly being grappled with throughout the book and throughout history.  Why?

Ernest Gaines expertly did what all good writers hope to do - strike a chord with readers and leave them thinking about the work long after they closed the book.

A Lesson Before Dying is ultimately a lesson in living, we strive on and keep on and hope on and eventually live on.


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