A debut of extraordinary distinction: through the trials of one unforgettable family, Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration, a story of love and bitterness and the promise of a new America.
In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation.
Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis's The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last - glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life. An emotionally transfixing page-turner, a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity, an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream, Mathis's first novel heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.
Lawrence had just given the last of his money to the numbers man when Hattie called him from a public telephone a few blocks from her house on Wayne Street. Her voice was just audible over the street traffic and the baby's high wail. "It's Hattie," she said, as though he would not recognize her voice. And then, "Ruthie and I left home." Lawrence thought for a moment that she meant she had a free hour unexpectedly, and he might come and meet them at the park where they usually saw each other.
"No," she'd said. "I packed my things. We can't . . . we're not going back."
They met an hour later at a diner on Germantown Avenue. The lunch rush was over, and Hattie was the lone customer. She sat with Ruthie propped in her lap, a menu closed on the table in front of her. Hattie did not look up as Lawrence approached. He had the impression that she'd seen him walk in and had turned her head so as not to appear to be looking for him. A cloth ...
Ayana Mathis's debut novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a stunning, penetrating portrait of a woman through the eyes of her children. Devotion and its intersection with love is one of the central ruminations of the novel. The narrative structure of the novel is intriguing, and somewhat like a puzzle. For example, although Hattie is the titular character, she is rarely allowed the opportunity to provide her own perspective. The effect is powerful and subtle. Each chapter provides information that creates a complete picture of a proud, intelligent, and ultimately, trapped woman. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie establishes Ayana Mathis as a gifted writer, one who will be watched with excitement. Fans of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin will find another favorite in this powerful new talent.
(Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).
Full Review (785 words).
The Great Migration describes a large-scale movement of African-Americans out of the South between 1910 and 1970. Hattie, moving from Georgia to Philadelphia, would have no doubt agreed with Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson's assessment of the Great Migration as "six million black Southerners moving out of the terror of Jim Crow to an uncertain existence in the North and Midwest."
African Americans began to leave the South shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, but in small numbers. By the turn of the 20th century, though, segregation, lynchings, and few employment opportunities in the South, forced many blacks to seek their fortunes elsewhere. So many left during this period, in fact, that African-American ...
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