The byline describes the tale as a story of enslavement in an alternative reality. I’m less than 15% into the book and at first I was just plodding along and was feeling kinda sci-fi-ey futuristic about the story and then today while having brunch with my daughter and grandchildren and looking around with the underpinning thoughts about Trayvon Martin, I looked around in the comfortable and familiar environment and saw the place was filled with mostly White women appearing pleasant and relaxed and I thought “I wonder what its like to live in a world were the world’s resources are garnered all for your well being and comfort?” I’m not blind to the fact that just by living in America that I’m a recipient, if even marginally, of some benefits, but not without extreme struggles and sacrifices of my cultural ancestors. But how would life have been different for Africans world wide if the shoe had been on the other foot? This is what Barnes is exploring.
The story starts in 1863 in a Gaelic village when after a night of celebrating, invaders come in the early morning dawn and raid the village for what will become the slave trade with Black people at the helm of the industry and Whites as the pawns. It will be interesting to see how Barnes justifies the reversal.
This was a hard book for me to read. Each page is weighty and sometimes too raw for me and I almost gave up on it. With each page my gut tightened with anticipation of the ending.
This is the story of a family who lives on the outskirts of a fictionalized small town called Bois Sauvage, (can’t help to wonder if the name of the town is a play with the sound Boys Savage). Esch, the female sibling, of Skeeter, Randall, and Junior narrates the story. Their mother died giving birth to Junior but is given a presence in the story via Esch’s memories. The story is very testosterone driven and Esch gives the reader a great visual of the physical-ness of her brothers and moves with ease in connecting it to other aspects of her memories and surroundings and events.
Esch and Skeeter remind me of the Sankofa symbol with two crocodile heads who share one stomach. Esch’s observations and need to be loved/seen for who she is, gives off female energy while Skeeter’s gruff, heroic deeds provide the male counterpart…both of them are unflinching. Randall and Big Turner carry the nobility that can be found in the story and little Junior seems to be the trickster of the tale.
The main but not over-riding two backdrops to the story is it begins 12 days before hurricane Katrina and Esch’s comparison to the Greek story of Madea and the Argonauts which she is reading. The father is an side fixture in the story and almost seems to have no body but voice only. The most dominate physical presence is when he looses his fingers in an accident. And is that not signifying on the loss of presence? He shows little attention to the children as he goes about his fixation on preparing for Katrina and his beer drinking.
Ward uses the physical landscape in a way that makes me feel the humidity and heat of Mississippi in August, the swamp like conditions surrounding their home, the thick carpeted forest floor, the red dirt that gets into everything. The shallow pit of water that surrounds their land seems so thick and murky that when they are swimming in, I could almost choke. The book is written tight in that every page carries the heaviness of their lives but her matter of fact tone suggest the family is just living life as they know it.