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Finding Makeba

Overview

Ben Crestfield never meant to become one of those African-American men all the statistics talk about: the ones who father children and disappear. He loved his beautiful wife, Helen, with all his heart, and his daughter, Makeba, was his greatest joy. Ben also had dreams, and talent. He wanted to be a writer, to make a difference, to tell the kinds of stories that never seem to get told. But Helen wanted a house, another baby...Ben felt the soft vines of her love wrap around his neck until he gasped for breath. And...
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Overview

Ben Crestfield never meant to become one of those African-American men all the statistics talk about: the ones who father children and disappear. He loved his beautiful wife, Helen, with all his heart, and his daughter, Makeba, was his greatest joy. Ben also had dreams, and talent. He wanted to be a writer, to make a difference, to tell the kinds of stories that never seem to get told. But Helen wanted a house, another baby...Ben felt the soft vines of her love wrap around his neck until he gasped for breath. And so one night, as Makeba played with her stuffed toys and tried to sleep after all the shouting, Ben tiptoed into her room and said good-bye. That was the end, for Ben. His knowledge of his own failure - such a predictable, contemptible failure - built a wall of shame that he thought would keep him from his wife and child forever. He lived alone and wrote. Ben was right about his talent. He sold a novel. His publisher sent him on tour. He sat in bookstores, signing copies, and one day looked up to see a girl facing him. "Sign it for Makeba Crestfield," she said, and Ben recognized his own soft features, his own warm brown skin. As father and daughter struggle to speak the truth to each other, they work toward spiritual healing and toward becoming a family for each other.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Ben, a black writer approaching fame and midlife, writes an extremely autobiographical novel. In alternating chapters his 19-year-old daughter, Makeba, abandoned by Ben ten years earlier, responds in angry, passionate journal entries. Ben's story is one of opposing desires that he finds incompatible-following his writerly muse and being a husband and father. Ben chooses art over family. Makeba echoes the fear and confusion of the forsaken daughter, but she also locates the courage to find, confront, and reclaim her father. Pate's second novel (his first was the acclaimed Losing Absalom, LJ 4/1/94) is thoroughly earnest but labored and awkward. It addresses crucial matters of fatherhood, the black literary experience, and the black family experience and invigorates the underappreciated 1970s Philadelphia setting. But it finally tells much more than it shows, articulating its points flatly and repeatedly, and is too facile and blunt to carry its story elegantly. Perhaps Pate's third novel will better reflect his promise. An optional purchase.-Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., Ohio
Kirkus Reviews
Journal entries in the form of letters to a father from his daughter, along with an imaginary dog/wolf named Mate who symbolizes the forces that drive couples apart, help Pate (Losing Absalom, not reviewed) establish himself as a stylistic innovator who can also tell a story—in this case about the as yet largely uncharted territory of modern-day African-American fatherhood.

In the prologue, 19-year-old Makeba Crestfield shows up at a crowded book signing in Philadelphia; when she finally reaches the front of the line, she confronts the author—for the very good reason that it's her long-lost father who, Makeba thinks, walked out on her a decade before. The rest of the narrative alternates between the background story of Makeba's father, Ben, and her mother, Helen, and entries from the journal Makeba has kept while reading her father's autobiographical novel about fatherhood and about a lifetime spent away from the daughter he supposedly loves. We learn that Ben and Helen met at a Valentine's Day party in 1975, fell in love, and, when Helen got pregnant months later, married. At the time, Ben was an aspiring writer; as soon as he and Helen marry, he finds himself torn between his soon-to-be family and his all-consuming career. After Makeba is born, the tension between Ben and Helen—who resents the fact that Ben can't make a full commitment to marriage or fatherhood—reaches the breaking point, and Ben leaves for a few days to clear his head. When he returns, Helen and Makeba are gone; he doesn't see his daughter again until she appears at his signing. Lena, Helen's mother (who has mystical powers), plays a significant role; for the most part, however, Pate focuses on the misunderstandings and lack of communication that are hallmarks of most broken unions.

A topical but effectively engrossing read by an author with the ability to say things in a new way.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380731527
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/1/1999
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.74 (d)

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