Book Review: The Roux in the Gumbo
Book Reviewed by Idrissa Uqdah
A Black Family’s Odyssey in America
Kim Robinson has written a remarkable account of her family’s history gathered from stories she was told as she was growing up. The life stories of her great grandmother, Annie Thomas and her grandmother, Helen Simpson are the roux in this gumbo; a very rich and entertaining read. The author acknowledges that a lot of people in her family helped her to write this book by giving her their memories. More African American families should share memories such as these. Rich in culture and historical events it's a perfect course assignment for Black History classes.
The story opens in the early 1800s, near Lake Charles, Louisiana where a young slave girl has escaped from the Sunrise Plantation. She is laying under a magnolia tree in the driving rain; scared, tired, hungry and sick. Asking the Lord for mercy, she is determined not to return to the horrors of living on the plantation. As the story unfolds and the young girl remembers how life changed for her on that dark night, you are reminded of the many slave narratives written long ago.
Ending in 1997; this book is a journey in Black history told in bits and pieces, sewn together like a patchwork quilt. I really enjoyed it.
Her visions of later day New Orleans are rich in the bayou land as Kim’s family lives as farmers, toiling the land and as entrepreneurs running every type of business from midwives and medicine women, root workers and hoo-doo men and livery services and prohibition time night spots complete with good food, gambling and home-made liquor. Kim’s ancestors were some very colorful personalities. But, they worked hard and were basically good people who stuck together and helped out a neighbor. Their dealings with the Klan and racist encounters in other parts of the South were also portrayed. They stood up for themselves and soon relocated to California for a better way of life.
I laughed and cried with this family as good money went bad and troubles touched the lives of the large and sometimes dysfunctional tribe. But; they always found a way to make ends meet and to support one another through their trials.
Annie did not hesitate to pull out her trusty blade to defend herself or her family from violence and good deeds gone bad. Trouble did not last always for this family and on the whole, they lived and loved well. Always respected in the community of Compton, California; they carved a life out of their situations that left a legacy for the future generations.
The Roux in the Gumbo is a book that you will enjoy. It is both entertaining and interesting. It is also a saga of African American life told from the viewpoint of four generations in American. I found it good reading, and especially appreciated Kim’s grandmother’s recipe for Gumbo in the front of the book. The recipe makes a great pot of Gumbo.