Book Review: Glorious
Book 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.
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Book Review: Glorious
Book Reviewed by Thumper
Glorious by Bernice L. McFadden
List Price: $15.95 Format: Paperback
Page Count: 240
Imprint: Akashic Books
Parent Company: Akashic Books
I recently finished Bernice McFadden’s latest novel, Glorious. Its title is
exactly what this novel is, glorious. The novel about a black woman writer
at the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance is tremendous; right now my mind
is fuzzy with praise for McFadden. I am full of joy right now. Bernice
McFadden continues her upward trajectory in becoming one of America’s
foremost authors! Glorious should count as her masterpiece!
The story of Easter Venetta Bartlett’s life began in Waycross, Georgia, at the turn of the century when Jack Johnson the first black heavyweight boxing champion won the crown. After her mother’s death, Easter leaves home and leads a vagabond type of existence before making a home for herself in Harlem, where she eventually becomes a celebrated writer. She had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time—1922 Harlem and the dawning of its cultural explosion on the American psyche. Easter experiences love, betrayal, heartaches, hopes and misfortune along the way. When Easter finally leaves Harlem, it is in disgrace.
McFadden is mine. I have loved her books for years! Her books, which featured her fabulous creation Sugar and her novel The Warmest December, are included in my "favorite books of all time" list. Glorious is an ass-wiper! It’s not just the writing, for it is superb that in itself is not a surprise because McFadden was the shit straight out of the box with her debut novel, Sugar. Glorious wasn’t written; in as much as it was born, entered the world screaming its head off after someone smacked it on its ass. The story has movement and flows like the wind that changes the seasons. The narrative isn’t a dominant voice, it’s a conductor that alerts and directs the instruments and cues the characters when it’s their turn to sing, as a solo, or part of a trio or duet.
The characters are lively, none more so than Easter. If you are a student of the Harlem Renaissance, the character of Easter will be familiar. Easter’s life is a composite of Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen. McFadden perfectly blended fact with fiction in order to create the character. Even though Easter shared some of the same histories as Hurston and Larsen, Easter is uniquely Easter, a completely separate individual. McFadden did not only perform this type of composition with Easter, she incorporated historical events and historical figures into the novel as well. For instance Marcus Garvey and his assassination attempt is a part of Easter’s personal life. There was a brief period of time when I was reading the novel that I had to remind myself that this story was not real. McFadden had blurred the line between history and fiction so perfectly that it barely existed.
Glorious is easily, hands down, one of the best books of the year. Wrapped in a story that is poignant, powerful and bittersweet, Glorious is a shout out for recognition and celebration of the Harlem Renaissance. I have not felt this special since I first read J. California Cooper’s splendid short story collection, some love, some place, sometime, well over twenty years ago. When it comes to stories and novels, McFadden doesn’t know what a misstep is. With Glorious, McFadden surpassed any and all expectations I had for her. I cannot recommend Glorious strong enough. I would shout it from the rooftops; put it up on billboards if I could.
I have always believed that one good book will lead to another. Glorious is no exception to that homespun rule. I LOVE the Harlem Renaissance and the literature and art that it produced. What great works! After reading Glorious, it is apparent that McFadden loves this era as well. If after reading Glorious, you are interested in the Harlem Renaissance, McFadden mentions a number of books about the Harlem Renaissance or books that were written during the renaissance in her afterword that are worth checking out. EXPLORE! At the risk of being rude, I would also recommend The Messenger Reader, The Crisis Reader, and The Opportunity Reader; anthologies edited by Shondra Wilson.
Read another AALBC.com Book Review written by Idrissa Uqdah