I cannot believe I started this book the first of the year…jeez! At this rate I’m behind on my challenge.
At about 1/3 of the way through I found myself confusing the view of the protagonist with the view of the author in what at times seem caricatural approaches to the African American characters. I also struggled with development of the story in that it a bit choppy and does integrate the present story with the supporting flashback stories.
Last week I piled off the magazines and other books that buried it on my bedside table and started again. I reached the decision that the book is as much a comedy as it is anything else (could easily see it as a movie) . The view of the protagonist who is from South Africa balances a naievete against his own truths as he observes the people and community that make up Kilvert, Ohio and it is this which accounts for his seeing but not seeing.
Tonight I forged over half way through and finally reached a line that that makes it worth the price. Before I share it…let me summarize just a bit: Toloki, the protagonist, is like a child examining his new surroundings and community of people. He is directly speaking to the reader…as if he is reporting to me from, as if I know him from having read about him in Mda’s previous book about the same character. The gist of the book is about how we come to our cultural mythologies that sustain us or not. Mda uses the controversies around the authenticity of “slave code quilts” and “traditional quilts vs. art quilts” to explore the above. But this isn’t clear until the beginning of the 2nd half of the book. At first it seemed like he was employing the belief in “slave code quilts” to carry the story along. Mda teaches at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio…a super-fantastic spot to write this novel as it is the home of Quilt National and south eastern Ohio’s importance in the Underground Railroad.
As many years I’ve been online hanging out in quilter’s venues, I can’t believe I’ve never heard this book mentioned!!!!! I’ll come back and post when I finish. Here is the line that made me howl:
Orpah (which I keep reading as Oprah…hmmm, Mda…what’s up with that?) an artist in the family of the strange lot of the Quigley clan. She quips on page 156 to protest making tradional quilts as her mother Ruth wants, NO, INSISTS, she make or never, ever touch her sewing machine, “Them slaves did all the escaping for me. I want to invent patterns that tell my own story. Like my music. Nobody’s gonna tell me not to play bluegrass on a sitar.”
I found the Cion Blog here.