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A Taste of Honey: Stories

A Taste of Honey: Stories

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by Jabari Asim

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Poignant and powerful, this debut collection from preeminent writer and critic Jabari Asim heralds his arrival as an exciting new voice in African American fiction.
Through a series of fictional episodes set against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent years in modern


Poignant and powerful, this debut collection from preeminent writer and critic Jabari Asim heralds his arrival as an exciting new voice in African American fiction.
Through a series of fictional episodes set against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent years in modern history, Asim brings into pin-sharp focus how the tumultuous events of '68 affected real people's lives and shaped the country we live in today. 
The sixteen connected stories in this exciting debut are set in the fictional Midwestern town of Gateway City, where second generation off-spring of the Great Migrators have pieced together a thriving, if fragile existence.  With police brutality on the rise, the civil rights movement gaining momentum, and wars raging at home and abroad, Asim has conjured a community that stands on edge.  But it is the individual struggles with love, childrearing, adolescence, etc, lyrically chronicled here, that create a piercing portrait of humanity.
In I'd Rather Go Blind and Zombies, young Crispus Jones, who while sensitive to the tremors of upheaval around him is still much more concerned with his crush on neighbor Polly and if he's ever going to be as cool as his brother.   When Ray Mortimer, a white cop, kills the owner of his favorite candy store, Crispus becomes aware of malice even more scary than zombies and the ghost that he thinks may be haunting his house. 
In The Wheat from the Tares and A Virtuous Woman, Rose Whittier deals with her abusive husband with a desperate resignation until his past catches up with him and she's given a second chance at love.  And Gabriel, her suitor, realizes that his whole-hearted commitment to The Struggle may have to give way for his own shot at romance.
And in Ashes to Ashes we see how a single act of despicable violence in their childhoods cements a lasting connection between two unlikely friends.
From Crispus' tender innocence to Ray Mortimer's near pure evil, to Rose's quiet determination, the characters in this book and their journeys showcase a world that is brimming with grace and meaning and showcases the talents of a writer at the top of his game.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“These tales are characterized by a winning lightness of touch and tone — a fundamental generosity of spirit, dusted with nostalgia — that make his first book of fiction for adults go down sweetly indeed.” —Washington Post

"Asim successfully delves into politics, domestic violence, racial identity, young love, and more in this humorous and poignant collection..." -Publishers Weekly

"With his debut work of fiction, the Guggenheim Fellow proves himself to be a promising storyteller." -Library Journal

"This fiction rings true." -Kirkus Reviews

Michael Lindgren
…nails the grain and flow of a community with "energy older than pain and stronger than time." Despite the serious themes of police brutality and institutional racism, these tales are characterized by a winning lightness of touch and tone—a fundamental generosity of spirit, dusted with nostalgia—that make [Asim's] first book of fiction for adults go down sweetly indeed.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In 16 related short stories, Asim (The N Word) illustrates the connections between African-American characters living in a Midwestern town in the tumultuous late ’60s. The focus is on the Jones family: young precious Crispus; ladies’ man Schomburg; budding radical and intellectual Ed; adoring and protective mother, Pristine, and warm, strong father, Reuben. In the opening narrative, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” Crispus describes his community as he sees it—grown men with colorful nicknames, his adolescent brothers changing before his eyes, and an emerging Black Nationalist fervor rising in his neighborhood. Crispus is particularly fond of Curly, a friendly, blind store owner who is killed by a corrupt white cop when Curly tries to protect Ed from a brutal beating. Moonshiner Octavius Givens and his best friend Leo Madison defend Leo’s mother after she’s assaulted by the white man whose family employs most of the blacks in town, and must fight to their deaths or run. Asim successfully delves into politics, domestic violence, racial identity, young love, and more in this humorous and poignant collection, although often the characters feel too rich for the format. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Asim established himself as a scholar of black culture with his nonfiction titles, What Obama Means…for Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future and The N Word. With his debut work of fiction, the Guggenheim Fellow proves himself to be a promising storyteller. Weaving together a collection of stories told from various perspectives, he eloquently captures the angst, upheaval, and confusion that defined 1968 black America. Although some characters are more appealing than others, Asim creates multifaceted and realistic personalities throughout. For instance, Big Mama provides a discriminate amount of love to her dark-skinned grandchildren during the "Black Is Beautiful" period, while a revolutionary who swears to protect the community ignorantly contributes to its destruction. Domestic violence, indissoluble bonds, and the pursuit of upward mobility saturate this collection. Exceptionally notable is his nostalgic recall of black culture, as Asim interweaves doo-wop and gospel music into his pages and has one character comment, "Everybody had nicknames where we live." VERDICT This work captures the blistering experiences of Gloria Naylor's Women of Brewster Place and will appeal to African American literature and cultural connoisseurs.—Ashanti L. White, Univ. of North Carolina at Greensboro
Kirkus Reviews
Though billed as a collection of stories, this fictional debut functions more like a novel, one that compensates with richness of character for what it lacks in narrative momentum. As a journalist and an academic, Asim (What Obama Means...For Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future, 2009, etc.) remains more concerned here with sociocultural dynamics than literary formalism. Yet he brings humanizing warmth to his fiction that makes it more than a series of didactic lessons. The setting for each of these stories is the fictional Gateway City, a Midwestern destination for African-Americans following the Great Migration from the South earlier in the 20th century. Sustaining a chronological progression-it would be hard to follow some of the later stories without familiarity with the earlier ones-they track the profound changes in the black North Side neighborhood during a pivotal year culminating in the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The "story" classification allows the author to employ various narrative perspectives, but many of these stories focus on a single family-with a loving mother and father and their three sons, often told through the voice of the youngest, seven-year-old Crispus Jones, who appears to be an authorial stand-in. The stories detail the emergence of Black Power militancy while the church remains the neighborhood's spiritual bedrock. They show intelligent, talented residents of various generations torn between advancing themselves through the education and employment possibilities that white culture offers and the loyalty to the neighborhood where they have a profound sense of belonging. Most of them know white people mainly through television, and theoccasional intrusion by the white-power structure (a rogue cop in particular) invites no closer familiarity. Some of the earlier stories seem more like character studies, vignettes heavier on descriptive detail than plot development, but the cumulative impact is more than the sum of its 16 narratives. However categorized, this fiction rings true.

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What People are Saying About This

Jewell Parker Rhodes
"Jabari Asim has written a brilliant coming-of-age tale filled compelling characters navigating race relations in 1968, navigating familial and neighborhood demands, and triumphantly reaffirming what it means to be human. A lovely, lyrical collection of connected stories that will leave readers breathless and ecstatic with passion and joy."--(Jewell Parker Rhodes, author of Yellow Moon)
Chris Bohjalian
"A Taste of Honey has the power of memoir and the poetry of fiction. Suddenly, it is 1968 once more, with all of the hope and violence and seismic change that rocked the cities that summer. It's all here and it's all beautifully rendered. This book is a gem."--(Chris Bohjalian, author Secrets of Eden)
Denise Nicholas
"Jabari Asim's rich short stories read like a novel...full of people we love getting to know, Rose, Gabriel, Pristine, Ed, Reuben and Guts. I particularly loved the male characters in these pages...men who live by their brains and their brawn, shelter their children, their community. They embrace their wives. They love hard, laugh deep and cry inside."--(Denise Nicholas, author of Freshwater Road)

Meet the Author

Jabari Asim is the author of What Obama Means . . . For Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future, The N Word, and several books for children. He is also a scholar-in-residence at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and editor-in-chief of The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Essence, Ebony, and other publications. He recently was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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A Taste of Honey 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mandersj More than 1 year ago
Touted as a series of short stories, reading this novel as a whole has a much more powerful impact. "A Taste of Honey" is set in a racially divided, imaginary midwestern town, in an African American neighborhood. Some people are happy with what they've got, yet most yearn for a better life. It's the summer of 1967, and racial tensions are rising. A rash of violence starting with a white policemen beating to death a beloved, blind African-American candy store owner sets this normally quiet neighborhood on edge. Everyone has an opinion on what happened and how to stop it from happening again; whether it be the father of three trying to do right by his family by working two jobs, or the teenaged boy down the block getting straight-As in school, working a part-time job and trying to coordinate a group called 'The Warriors' to fight for their rights. Each chapter is about a particular neighborhood character, several chapters overlapping when family members and neighbors are discussed by, and interact with, the featured protagonist. The heart of the neighborhood lies in the home of Pristine and Ed Jones and their three sons, Crispus, Shom and Ed Jr. Ed Jr. is experiencing his first real romantic relationship, working part-time at the African-American grocery store, is a member of the local brotherhood alliance, and hopes to get into Harvard in the fall. Shom and Crispus, much younger then Ed. Jr., share a room where their personalities are as different as night and day. Shom, the much favored son, is rarely talked about except by Crispus, who knows he is seen as second best. Crispus has a crush on a chubby neighbor girl who sees a ghost in Crispus' house. Next door to the Jones' lives Rose and Paul Whittier. Rose has a singing voice that could invoke emotion from a stone, and Paul beats her on a daily basis to make her stop singing. But Rose will never stop singing, for it's the only joy she has in life. One day a gigantic stranger comes into their home and leaves with a battered Paul in the trunk of his car. It takes Rose a long time to believe she is finally free. The climax of the book comes when Martin Luther King is assassinated and riots break out and family members are separated. Ed Jr. is making his way back to his side of town after attending a Harvard interview when his bus is stopped by the police and everyone is forced to get off and leave on foot. Fearing rioting, people are boarding their windows, streets are being shut down and angry mobs are forming everywhere Ed looks. Will he make it home to his family? Will everyone in their respectful little neighborhood be safe? What will the world look like after this monumental event? Extremely sympathetic characters narrated in such an interesting manner make this story intriguing, leaving the reader wanting more.