This is one of the most unique novels you’ll ever read! It’s sparse, yet very rich and layered. Not just in its story and themes, but stylistically. A young nameless family, a blended family of four set out on a road trip across country during the summer. Going along the Appalachian route, they drive through Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas and beyond. Along the way, they make discoveries about these various locations, but also about themselves and each other. The catalyst for the family vacation is more than just traditional rest and relaxation or fun and amusement. In addition to the fact that the father is collecting information and sound for a work project- he’s an audio documentarian- he and his wife are seriously considering this as their last time together as a couple, with their kids. Although they spend days on end in close quarters in the car, in hotel rooms and in the bed, they are in their separate worlds. When not lovingly tending to their children, they are in detached, finding solace in their own thoughts, work and concerns. This is especially true for the wife who is consumed with and personally touched by the immigration crisis unfolding at the Southwestern border. It is the ever present backdrop as news reports leap from news radio reports and seep into her consciousness and the boy and girl’s curiosity.
In their car, they play games and sing along to music, but on the radio, there is news about an "immigration crisis": thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States, but getting detained--or lost in the desert along the way
It’s a journey story that covers themes such as childhood, marriage- the disintegration of it or maybe its rebirth, immigration issues, native American history, politics and injustices. It is presented from several perspectives and voices, which would be a challenge to successfully pull off by most, but lands perfectly for Luiselli. While there are so many laudable aspects to this novel, one undeniable stand-out is that this is a book that you not only read, but you hear, see and feel. So much of it is about sounds, observations and empathy. It resonates with emotions although keeping the reader at a curious distance. While reading it, you want to look up maps or listen to certain songs, make a list of other books to read or re-read. You really feel like you’re in the car with this family experiencing what they are, like a book their reading or song listening to or oral history the father is sharing about Native Americans or seeing the Polaroids the son is taking. This is a wholly unique novel to not just be read, but experienced.
Contrary to what Barnes and Nobel would have you believe, there is plenty of great literature by and about Black people (fiction and non-fiction; contemporary and older). There is no need to put “black face” on white classics. We Got This! Whether you are considering a big binge of numerous titles or just a sampling of several in honor of the month, or sprinkling out the diverse reads throughout the year, below are suggestions that will keep you busy, enthralled and wiser.
In alphabetical order by title:
The Bluest Eye (fiction) by Toni Morrison - The literary legend’s first novel, published in 1970 still holds up as one the greatest works of fiction. Giving us a window into, among other issues and characters Pecola, a 12-year-old girl who has dark complexion. Because of her complexion and features, she feels unattractive and unlovable, leading her to strongly desire being able to change her eye color to blue, like her white female counterparts. In addition to being a disturbing examination of obsessions over beauty and conformity, Morrison delves deep into the state of impoverished black community in the mid west. As in all her novels, she does not flinch from the harsh realities of and questions surrounding race, class and gender.
If you’ve read this before but it’s been a long time, it is so worth re-reading. If you’ve never read “The Bluest Eye,” you must!
Girl, Woman, Other ( fiction) by Bernardine Evaristo - This recent Booker Prize winner (Britain’s version of Pulitzer) is a unique read about several creative women expounding on the Black British experience. Coming from different perspectives and many voices, “Girl, Woman, Other” is a celebration of diversity.
Nickel Boys ( fiction) by Colson Whitehead uncovers a little known stain on American history as we follow the detainment of a young teen black boy put in a juvenile facility in South Florida. Although Whitehead has changed the name of the facility and fictionalizes the characters, such a place did actually exist, and its horrific policies of abusing and sometimes killing and burying the inmates was only recently discovered. Whitehead uses masterful restraint in clearly drawing his protagonist, supporting characters and painful situations, yet you are deeply invested in everyone and each scenario throughout. Coming in at just under 200 pages, it is a quick, yet hugely satisfying read.
The Revisioners ( fiction) by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton - As follow- up to her highly acclaimed debut novel, “A Kind of Freedom,” this is a graceful and enthralling testament to the importance of family history and its influence in the to current generations. In the early part of the 20th century, Josephine, who knew of slavery as a child, is the proud owner of a farm in the South. Given the era and her location, this was no small feat. Throughout the process of developing her business and establishing her roots and credibility, she was met with resistance at every turn. Along the way and for better or worse, she reluctantly developed a relationship with her white female neighbor. A century later, Ava, a descendant of Josephine finds herself as a single mom without a job. As such, she seeks the shelter with her white grandmother, and issues ensue. “The Revisioners” successfully and very satisfactorily dives into the volatile relationships of women and family. It is a an absolute page-turner you’ll find hard to put down and hard pressed not to pass along to a friend. Not only do I recommend reading it for yourself, but I guarantee you'll be the hit of your book club if you throw this in the rotation.
The Water Dancer ( fiction) by Ta Nehisi Coates - Known for his powerful and halting works in non-fiction such as, “We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates jumps into the literary fiction pool with a stunning debut. The main character, Hiram Walker, is a young slave with little memory of his mother who died when he was a child. He discovers he has some sort of magical powers after almost drowning and being saved by an unknown entity. Although he initially is unable to tap into and harness his powers, there are those who feel they can. As such, they recruit him for work with the Underground Railroad. This begins his journey to freedom and to self discovery. It is not long, when he is willing to give it all up though as he is determined to secure the same freedom for the two women he cherishes- Thena, his chosen mother, and Sophia, a tortured woman he is in love with. “The Water Dancer” is a moving and complex story of slavery, freedom, love and determination. The elements of magical realism are a welcome surprise that elevate the story and effectively perpetuate the plot without overwhelming it. From the opening pages, the reader is entranced.