Praised as "sweeping" and "ambitious" for lacing complex genealogies with key moments throughout history, generational sagas can quickly amass mythical proportions as dramatic events ripple with consequence. The past, portrayed as a force which shapes contemporary lives, becomes something to honor, accept, or struggle against depending on each character's inclinations. On its surface, the story of the Mayfields seems to follow the familiar trajectory from tragedy to triumph, beginning with Mah Bette (a slave) and Julius Mayfield (Sweet Tamarind's plantation owner), branching out further when two assaults result in births, and concluding with concern toward others in need - but sisters and co-authors Shange and Bayeza enrich such potentially charged material in commendable ways.
They do not render women's efforts to prevail as sentimental acts of heroism, but instead,...
Beyond the Book
The Gullah (known as Geechee in Georgia and Florida) are descendants of West African slaves, whose numbers today range from 200,000-500,000.
The Gullah region traditionally extends along the coast from SE North Carolina, through Georgia to Northern Florida, including the Lowcountry region and its Sea Islands (see map at bottom left).
Geographic isolation, a marshy, malarial environment that often led to absentee plantation owners, and the fostering of close community ties allowed a distinct creole culture to develop. After the Civil War and emancipation, the Gullah's isolation increased as few outsiders were attracted to the area, and labor issues and a series of devastating hurricanes caused rice planters to abandon their farms. Thus, the Gullah were left alone to...