There is truly a reason why anything written by J. California Cooper has a permanent home in my library.
Her work is lyrical, poetic, thoughtful, and troubling.
Reading family took my heart on a journey of deep reflection, connection with the human spirit, pride in the survival of my people, and saddness for the evil that rested in the heart of man to do the things that slavery allowed him to do. That whiteness became the license to rape and kill and destroy and hate.
Even in hating the actions, in reading her work, one understands the universality of the black mother and was transported back, in a way, to what the creation of man was like in the very, very beginning.
This is more of narration of one of the "great cloud of witnesses" who in wanting to spare herself and her children more indignities that were in the land during the decades before the Civil War, she inadvertently set them on a course that would affect decades. Becoming a watcher and traveler in that space between life and death, she watched over multiple generations and reported on the actions of man.
In her narration, we expanded issues of family, how the Law of Maternal descent decided the fate of sons who shared the same blood, how the kindness of one who shared the same color allowed one of her daughters to simply breathe life in a faraway land.
J. California Cooper has mastered the first-person narration, while limited by the sight of a ghost narrator, we still feel the helplessness of the enslaved women, the horror of rape, the compromises of trying to live in a tangled world, and the fear of losing a status based on chattel.
We are all connected. In America, one truly can not know if the family lines include other races or not, especially if those origins are in the slave south. We never know the shrewdness and forethought of a foremother who was using her limited education to pave a way for future generations to walk on their own land or the greed of another that wanted to own everything to wash away his blackness. We never truly know.
This short little book is appropriate for upper level middle school all the way to adult. There are a couple scenes that may be disturbing, but the beauty of J. California Cooper's writing is that she does not write graphically, one can understand the horror without fully describing the color of the assault.
I loved this book.
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