Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Glorious by Bernice L. McFadden

I eagerly started this book by Bernice L. McFadden.  Having read and reviewed some of her other work, knew I was in for an emotional, provocative, and thoughtful experience.

Book CoverGlorious left me wondering if life in America will ever change as I wrestled with themes of love, loss, anger, hate, guilt, and injustice.

Still intrigued by the telling of women's stories, especially those of writers, I expected it to be different.  Perhaps McFadden was attempting to get me remember that not all truth is told.  I think she has invited me to look at older people differently, to realize they have lived a life that we  should cherish and remember.

Turning page after page, I had these images of the women in the stories and felt like I was gathering snippets of information loosely centered around the life of Easter Venetta Barnett, the protagonist and briefly celebrated fictional writer dubbed E.V. Gibbs.  In journeying with her from Waycross, Georgia to Harlem, New  York, back to Waycross, I felt as if I was peaking through a window, maybe reading a few journal pages hidden under her bed, stolen and plagiarized by her white benefactor.

Then I became angry at the injustice done to her and perhaps the injustice done to other black female writers of the Harlem Renaissance era, who were only able to leave us with a handful of volumes. Perhaps, they, like the fictional Easter, were silenced because their voice was stolen by a jealous, vengeful, talent-less white woman who really wanted to be consumed by the energy of the era.  A white woman, who for all her money and not-so-secret Creole lesbian lover, could not force Easter, her secretary, to share her most intimate writing with her.  The woman, Meredith Tomas, steals what rightfully belongs to Easter, silencing her for the forty years of silence in the book.

When I was reading the book, I kept thinking about Zora Neale Hurston, her birthday having recently passed. I remembered Nella Larsen and wondered if Glorious was based on her life.  Or the lives of the countless others who put pen to paper.  In modern times, I thought about the book The Help and the allegation that a white woman stole the stories and life of her black maid, profited off it, and allowed accusation to fall on the black woman.  The same way Meredith did to Easter.

Our lives, our stories are rich, only those who have truly lived it can tell the story.  No one who hasn't experienced it can bring the cadence to page the way this little book reminds us.

It begins and ends at historic periods in American history, giving us snippets of people, places and times of change.

Bernice L. McFadden is an expert storyteller, evoking emotions of wonder, challenge, and change.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Book Thief

Time reached through my winter holiday and deposited within my soul the life of a brave young girl who will live with me forever.  I admire her and cherish her love for words, for writing, her daring and her quest, her heart and her living.

Never ever will I underestimate the powerful storytelling of a 552 page book to completely stop all activity in me until reaching the soulful last words.

This book will both haunt me and fill me, just as the times it was set in both haunt and fill the survivors, on both sides of the power of words, the survivors lived to tell the tale.

The Book Thief sat on my shelf, along with other curated tomes, waiting for me to have a moment to pick her up and relish in her words.  The Book Thief

Holiday break offered just such an opportunity.

The movie came out and that, along with a previous book I read, felt like I needed to read them before seeing a producer or director's interpretation of the writer's intent.

Waiting was not disappointing.

Death comes to us all, we know it, we try to bargain with it or welcome it or extend it's coming, but coming for us all, it will do.

But how often do we hear from Death itself?  To witness living through the eyes of the soul catcher?

The Book Thief, set in Nazi Germany in the turbulent, rhetoric filled, fear-mongered, hated years of Hitler's reign of terror, invites us to have a conversation, if you will, with Death, as it shares with us what it has to do over these years of World War II.

Death, in fact, introduces us to the young Liesel Meminger, in a way, looking back over her life as he comes to take her soul away.  Death, marveling at her escape of the time he took away the souls of her entire street, because she was tucked away in a basement deemed not suitable for shelter, tucked away writing her life story, taking the title, The Book Thief, as a description of herself.

Never have I read a book that so poetically and completely exuded the love of words and writing, in the midst of such hunger, death, and destruction, there was this quest to live, to capture, and to hold onto, to  make right the power of words, and to right the wrongs of the hate filled words aimed at those deemed less than.

The guilt of those who survived, the questionning of those who obeyed sheer evil because of fear and loyalty, the uniting of those who saved one at the risk of their own lives, and the human loss of so many innocent citizens caught up and held hostage by the powerful forces of the ruling party.  This book invited us to examine the other side, the poor side of the street, the rationed coffee and stale bread, the dirty kids playing in the midst of dropping bombs.  It invites us to gain a different perspective of the working class people, the ones who weren't part of the decisions to hate the others simply because they were Jewish.

Emotions will definitely ebb and flow, will rain down like snow or ashes from bombs, when reading this book, compelled to turn page after page, to push through to all ten parts, the continue this conversation narrated by Death.  This journey together ended completely and sweetly, a moment when that one who watches us all our lives, who comes to carry us away, has a pause to let an old woman in Sydney feel in her hands once again, a cherished treasure of her youth.

It isn't enough to suggest that one must read this book, one must.  It is just as important to the lexicons of coming-of-age novels as The Diary of Anne Frank and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  A rare step away from my usual genre of black female literary works, The Book Thief was sweetly written and valuable to me as a writer.  The poetry in the midst of the destruction it depicted reminds us all, even as war rages on in shores distant from mine, that there will always be a little girl in a quest to take back the beauty and power of words.  Back then, it was a fictional character named Liesel who is just as real to me as the brave young girl of today called Malala.

This has earned a cherished and honored spot on my library shelves.  One day, a girl will run her fingers over the volumes in my home, and pull it from its home and fall in love with the characters, just the way Liesel did in the quiet library of the Mayor's wife.  There is always an ally.

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