Today we celebrate Martin Luther King day and I thought it would be appropriate to talk about some of the best books I have read about the African-American experience. First, take a few minutes to listen, once again, to the historic “I Have A Dream” speech:
Here are the novels I recommend which revolve around African-American history:
Sweetsmoke by David Fuller
Sweetsmoke is a rich atmospheric novel of the South during the Civil War. Entwined in the story are the frequent injustices and crimes against enslaved blacks including beatings, hobblings and the theft of children who are torn from their mothers’ breasts to be sold into slavery. Fuller writes gripping dialogue and offers the reader characters who are complex and memorable. The reader’s heart will ache for Marriah, grow cold toward Ellen, and pound with fear for Cassius as the pages to this novel seem to turn themselves.
Someone Knows My Name (aka The Book of Negroes) by Lawrence Hill
Hill gives a voice to the thousands of blacks who were enslaved in the latter part of the eighteenth century and in this way, the novel becomes more than just an historical document, but instead becomes a personal story of one woman’s courage and determination. Hill’s novel is really a family saga immersed in an historical time period.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Lee doesn’t restrict herself to merely telling a story. She includes astounding insight into the roots of racism and the idea that one man’s courage to stand up against inequality may be all that’s needed to begin to shatter the beliefs that sustain hatred.
The Long Song by Andrea Levy
The Long Song is a brilliant novel narrated by an unforgettable character. July is, perhaps, one of the most memorable female voices I have read in a long, long time. Bittersweet, funny, often devastating…this is a novel which drew me in immediately and held me in its grip to the final page. Andrea Levy writes with an honesty and insight into the human condition that takes one’s breath away.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The year is 1962. The place is Jackson, Mississippi. The issue is civil rights. Kathryn Stockett’s best selling debut novel, The Help, is narrated in the unforgettable voices of three women caught up in history and courageous enough to believe things can change simply by sharing their stories.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
When Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851, it outraged people in the American South and was criticized by slavery supporters. The novel was declared ‘utterly false’ by Southern novelist William Gilmore; others referred to it as criminal and slanderous. A bookseller in Mobile, Alabama was driven from town for selling the novel and Stowe received threatening letters, including a package containing a slave’s severed ear.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.
So begins The Color Purple, a novel set in the deep south and told in the voice of a young black girl named Celie. Alice Walker brings Celie to life through her letters to God. Celie’s words tell of unspeakable horrors – her rape at the hands of her stepfather, her marriage to an older man who beats her, the loss of almost everyone dear to her. But, then her husband’s lover arrives and teaches Celie what it means to be courageous in the face of pain, and most importantly what it means to love and be loved.
The Color Purple is a splendid novel full of pain and joy, tears and laughter, love and hate. It is an American Classic that should be mandatory reading for all of us.
The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman
Although a large part of the novel is dedicated to the Holocaust, the book also examines the Civil Rights movement and racism within the United States, and again looks at the individual stories which made up the larger historical picture.
Are there any books you would add to this list?