“The fam’ly be loyal each to the other, always and ever.”
17 gathered at the home of Bonnie Magee to discuss this month’s historical fiction novel set in the tumultuous era of Reconstruction, 1875, Louisiana and Louisiana, 1987. Many thanks to Beverly Dossett for leading the discussion and detailing the journey of three young women in search of family amid the destruction of the post-Civil War South and of a modern-day teacher who learns of their stories and the vital connection to her student’s lives – past and present.
Welcome new members, Georgia Updegrove and Susan Davis. We hope you will join us again! Bookers is now a subgroup of Clubster and the invitations to join have been sent. For the moment I’ll be posting the upcoming events on the site but I’m not sure about the minutes. Stay tuned.
Daryl Daniels has been promoted to outpatient status as of April 7th but still returns daily for I.V. antibiotics and steroids. She “feels good and is working on regaining her strength.” Bookers is sending prayers that this trend continues and we’ll see her out putzing in her front yard soon.
Malakoff’s own bookstore, Bookish, 211 South Terry, will be celebrating their one-year anniversary and the National Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, April 24, 2021 from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. It’s an honor to be included in the fun-filled day with free lattes and cappuccinos, give-a-ways of $100.00 gift card or free coffee for a year, an additional 20% off entire purchases all day and a presentation and meet and greet scheduled for 1:00 p.m. with yours truly discussing Life in a Box and A Kind of Hush.
Lisa Wingate based her novel on actual Lost Friends advertisements originally written by newly freed slaves searching for loved ones who had been sold away. They scribbled messages in makeshift classrooms, kitchen tables, and in church halls then these missives carried on the wings of hope were sent forth on steam trains and mail wagons, on riverboats, and in saddlebags of mail carriers. In their heyday the ads, published in a Methodist newspaper, circulated to over five-hundred preachers, eight-hundred post offices, and over four-thousand subscription holders. The spark igniting this novel came from one of her fans who also volunteered with the Historic New Orleans Collection, suggesting there was another piece of history Lisa should know about.
The novel is unfortunately poignant in our world today where human trafficking is on an unimaginable scale, but also celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit; the power of friendships sharing a common goal; how it’s possible for a genuine sisterhood to develop between two at opposite ends of the social spectrum; families lost and found, the impact of words and the power of reading. The plot could have been the familiar cliched tale of an energetic educator on a mission to save the underprivileged, but this one differs as the teacher learns as much from her students as they do from her. The parallel storylines in alternating chapters show how Hannie and Benny share scars from their past, each remarkable women taking the risks needed to improve the world for the present and future generations. “It’s when you’re honest about (your scars) that you find the people who will love you in spite of your nicks and dents. Perhaps even because of them.”
This novel evokes the battle cry of those dedicated to public service, the “starfish story,” where a man is walking on the beach and sees a young boy throwing starfish back into the ocean. He’s doing so because if he doesn’t throw them back, they’ll die. The man says, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish…you can’t make a difference.” The young boy listened, picked up another starfish and threw it back into the surf, smiling he said, “I made a difference for that one.”
Most of the critical reviews came from the pace of the story – “slow” and could have been a lot shorter especially in the “Texas” segment. We had a few who had not read the book and some that had not finished it yet. The alternating chapters in different voices appealed to most but there was some confusion trying to keep up with whose story was being told. Also, the ending was questioned as the embattled teacher within a divided community was never completed, instead a potential love affair filled the last pages. And, suddenly at the end, an entirely new character is introduced – Benny’s baby born when she was a teenager and placed for adoption. Does the authenticity of comparing the parallels of the storylines – giving a baby up for adoption to the legacy of families torn apart by slavery – ring true?
We discussed the symbolism used in the novel – the three African glass beads signify loyalty and truth with the hope that even after a long time apart, family will fill the string with beads and become whole again, in this world or in the next. The significance of three beads might be tied to a reference in the Bible, “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken;” the church where the main characters hid was their safe haven; and ladybugs as prophesies of good luck served to unify the prologue where Hannie Gossett tells her story and in the epilogue where LaJuna, the five-time-removed great granddaughter of Hannie Gossett, recites the names of the lost siblings, mother, aunt, and cousins and when they were found again. Ms. Wingate also employed the dragonfly in “Before We Were Yours, to show that anything is possible. Bugs add depth to stories!
We talked about the characters…and on that note I asked the gang to guess the number of characters in this novel with the closest winning two prizes. We ranged from 160 to 275 – the answer 113 – the winner Debbie Yarger, her prize was the honor of leading the review of next month’s Bookers’ book, and a cute pair of cozy slippers she can put on while preparing for her debut. She thought I was joking – I wasn’t…but we’ll team up to tackle this challenge. Thank you for your willingness…albeit laced with a little trickery!
We discussed how classrooms still “segregate” today as in this book noting that the kids with money or athletic talent were siphoned to a swanky prep academy, the troubled kids to an alternative school and the rest were in Benny’s classroom – “swamp rats and hicks on one side, black students on the other, and in no-man’s land in the middle, a cluster of others – Native Americans, Asians, punk rockers and nerds.” Benny Silva, first-year schoolteacher in a rural area, faced an uncooperative school board and classroom bent on creating as much havoc as possible – both had her in their grips until she found a way to inspire the class in an unconventional manner instilling a sense of pride and excitement in her students – her efforts deserving of a standing ovation. Benny and Nathan’s storyline, although both loaded with emotional baggage, was predictable, not adding much to the plot other than providing a “feel-good” “hit them with the happy-ever-after ending wand.” We thought the choice of the novella, Animal Farm, written in 1945 as the book Benny’s class was to read odd at best and wondered what possessed the author to choose that one – it was most likely the only book available for this school or was it so we’d remember it and talk about it? Mission accomplished. There were hosts of favorite characters including Granny T, LaJuna (both smart and sassy), Moses, Hannie, Aunt Sarge, Gus McKlatchy, Nathan, Elam Salter and most disliked the sheriff who harassed Benny…out of 113 this is just a snippet. We decided Gun Barrel City needs a Cluck and Oink restaurant as in the book – maybe next to WHaus…HA! Loved Judge Gossett’s library and the ingenuity of Robin Gossett using the billiard table to hide her important papers. We wondered if there was a “real” book of lost friends or just the posted ads….?
In year 11 (Sept. 2014) we read and re-enacted The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd with the central metaphor – flight and freedom – exploring sweeping social issues such as abolition and women’s rights. The novel challenges the reader to appreciate how each character found their wings – a way to break the chain of bondage without lowering their expectations or compromising their goals. It’s set in a Charleston plantation with protagonist, Sarah Grimke, the middle child of ten whose father was a Judge on South Carolina’s highest court, struggled with the inhumanity of slavery and the inequality of women but didn’t know what to do about it. Highly recommend.
On the business side:
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
May 11: People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
An Australia rare-book expert is offered a job of a lifetime – analysis and conservation of a priceless book, one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. As she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries, the reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation.
Discussion Leader: Debbie Yarger
Home of Jane Shaw
June 8(bonus month)The Second Mother, Jenny Milchman (BookTrib book)
A young woman loses her baby and after months of mourning her child and drowning her pain in alcohol, her husband wants to separate and go their own ways. She decides to start anew and takes a teaching position in a small school on a remote island in Maine.
Discussion Leader: Jane Shaw
Home of Pat Faherty
Summer Read: Clementine, The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill, Sonia Purnell
A long overdue tribute to the extraordinary woman who was Winston Churchill’s closest confidante, fiercest critic, and shrewdest advisor. Later in life he claimed that victory in World War II would have been impossible without the woman who stood by his side for fifty-seven turbulent years.
Discussion Leader: Patty Evans
Home of Beverly Dossett
“For the hundreds who vanished and the thousands who didn’t, may your stories not be forgotten.”