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Paperback: 250 pages
Publisher: Akashic Books (May 1, 2010)
Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
Reviewed by Idrissa Uqdah
Bernice McFadden's long awaited release, is pure poetry. This novel sings
to you through the eyes of Easter Bartlett who runs away as a young girl
when her life requires that she don her "big girl panties" and find a better
way. After her mother's sudden death and the arrival of her father's new,
young wife; Easter leaves Waycross, Georgia in 1910. Taking flight by foot
down the dusty Georgia road she is determined to survive. Jack Johnson's
victory in the ring has made the South an even more dangerous place for
people of color. Whites are both resentful and afraid of the new-found pride
in the Negro community.
She finds work in Valdosta with the help of her mother's sister who takes her in. Easter's aunt and her cousins take to her, though they barely know her and her hard work and determination pays off. The white lady that she cooks and cleans for is delighted to find that she can read and has read many of the classics. She allows Easter to read the many books in her library and discusses them with her. Life was bearable for awhile.
But for only awhile. The ugly head of racism rears up in front of her face, as she watches her co-worker and newly-found friend become the victim of an angry lynching mob after a white man is murdered. Easter wastes no time and says no goodbyes as she heads down the road again looking for something better.
The author's apt descriptive scenes of Jim Crow in the South and the deplorable conditions that Black folk were forced to live in will make you both angry and sad, a hundred years later. Easter's anger fueled her determination to find better and she moves from one undesirable situation to another. Because she was educated and had such a pleasant personality; she was able to find work. Meanwhile Easter kept writing the stories that she had started writing in her childhood. Her stories kept her spirit alive.
Finding betrayal in almost every situation; Easter meets up with a childhood friend from home while riding a segregated train to Virginia. Mattie-Mae (now called Madeline) convinces Easter to come with her back to New York City. Before Easter realizes it, she is walking with her friend down the streets of Harlem. Marveling at the activity and the energy, Harlem is even more of an adventure than she ever imagined. She finds a job in a hair salon washing hair and at night wanders through Harlem enjoying the sights and sounds.
It is the era Fats Waller's music; Marcus Garvey's Back-to-Africa Movement and the Harlem Renaissance. Blake and Sissil's all Negro musical hits Broadway, Easter is working as a laundress and writing stories for the Crisis Magazine under a pseudonym and Negrophilia is becoming all the rage.
As usual, McFadden invents peculiar characters reminiscent of Toni Morrison's style. Her main characters are colorful, interesting folk and the secondary characters are as well. The women in the story remind you of women of would know today. They are strong, resilient, doing what they have to do to survive. Mixing cultural history with fiction, the author takes liberties with certain historical facts to make them fit her storyline. It's an exciting time in Harlem and Easter is right in the middle of all of the action. But still it is not any easy life for Easter.
She writes to keep alive throughout the many tragic situations that she still encounters, the pain of discrimination and living one step away from abject poverty and despair. Her writing keeps her focused on surviving. This is one glorious novel, filled with powerful anecdotes in Black history and the journey of one woman who just wants to be loved, cherished and respected.
Read another AALBC.com Book Review written by Thumper