Roadwalkers

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In this amazing odyssey of two black women from the 1930s to the present, all the storytelling gifts of a brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning writer are abundantly displayed. When we first meet Baby, she's one of six black children abandoned by their parents during the Depression. They are roadwalkers - homeless wanderers across the rural South, leading a dangerous, almost enchanted life. One by one they are saved, lost, or simply disappear, until only Baby and a brother are left, living off the land - a primitive ...
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Overview

In this amazing odyssey of two black women from the 1930s to the present, all the storytelling gifts of a brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning writer are abundantly displayed. When we first meet Baby, she's one of six black children abandoned by their parents during the Depression. They are roadwalkers - homeless wanderers across the rural South, leading a dangerous, almost enchanted life. One by one they are saved, lost, or simply disappear, until only Baby and a brother are left, living off the land - a primitive gypsy existence hauntingly described. Finally Baby is captured - almost like a wild animal - by the white farm manager of an old plantation where the children have been hiding. He sends her to an orphanage in New Orleans, where she guards the rich mythic content of her wandering against the invasive kindness of the nuns by covering the walls with strange, brilliant drawings of flowers and animals. We next see Baby decades later, through the eyes of her daughter, Nanda, who at thirty-six looks back at her own childhood. Baby and Nanda move into the middle class through Baby's eccentrically successful career - first as a seamstress, then as a designer of dresses for rich white women. Raised a princess in the protective circle of Baby's magic, Nanda in her teens is suddenly catapulted into the white world when she is sent off to integrate a white Catholic girls' school in the East. Seeing herself - as her mother saw herself - alone in an alien place, Nanda finds an entirely different means of survival. A rich and wonderfully fresh - often astonishing - evocation of the black experience in the South, seen through the lives of two fascinating women.

In a rich and compelling recreation of the black experience in the South, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Keepers of the House, two extraordinary, enterprising women make places for themselves in the world--and make themselves into people to remember.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Two narratives uneasily coexist in this latest novel by Grau, one absorbing and potentially riveting, the other curiously dry and flat. The book's first half is as powerful as anything this talented writer ( Nine Women ) has ever produced. Her rhythmic prose accommodates precise yet incandescent descriptions of the natural world, and she evokes the patterns of daily farm life. Abandoned by their parents during the Depression, six young black children become homeless ``roadwalkers'' in the South. Eventually only Baby and her older brother Joseph remain, desperately foraging and stealing in order to survive. Possessed by inchoate anger, Joseph sets fires on a restored plantation; he escapes from a hunting party, but Baby is caught and sent to an orphanage by the farm's kind owner. There the feral child is named Mary Woods and treated with compassion, until she turns her back on those who succored her. Grau interweaves Baby's story with that of the plantation's white manager, Charles Wilson, drawing a moving comparison. Charles, too, loses his mother at a young age, but he has the safety net of family to sustain him. To this point, the narrative is luminous and involving, although Grau does spell out the spiritual bonds between her characters with some heavy-handedness, proclaiming empathies that are facile and devised. But when, in the book's second half, Mary's daughter, Nanda, becomes the protagonist, the narrative loses its way. Nanda's experiences at boarding school, where she is a pariah in a white world, are meant to explain her bitterness, fury and self-centeredness. But though Grau means to demonstrate how survivors suffer, learn and endure, Nanda and her mother are opaque and charmless; neither has a soul. One wishes that Grau had continued the path on which the first half of the book is so firmly placed. (July)
Library Journal
In her first novel in 18 years, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Grau incorporates the story ``The Beginning'' from Nine Women (LJ 1/86), moving far beyond her original concept. Grau relates the experiences of Baby, a homeless African American child during the Depression, whose seemingly endless travels eventually bring her success and respectability, and Nanda, Baby's daughter, whose magical relationship with her mother gives her the strength to integrate an exclusive convent school. This is quintessential Grau: the vivid descriptions of the South, the multiple perspectives, the unblinking lack of sentimentality, and the strong female characters, whose amazing inner strength allows them to rise above the most dreadful and degrading experiences, turning them into victories. The first half of the book, chronicling Baby's experiences wandering the back roads of the South, is particularly moving, while the second half-which tells Nanda's story-is less compelling. Nonetheless, Grau's many admirers will be delighted at long last to have a new work by one of the novel's finest practitioners.-Andrea Caron Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, Kan.
Brad Hooper
Grau made her name with her 1964 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Keepers of the House" and has been in the foreground of southern fiction ever since. Her latest novel divides evenly into two halves, telling the two distinct parts of the life of Mary Woods. Mary was a child of the Depression, one of many parentless black children roaming the wrung-out southern landscape stealing and begging and eating scraps--"roadwalkers." Mary is captured as if she were some feral creature and turned over to an orphanage, where slowly, ever so slowly, she comes out of her totally withdrawn state. The story is then picked up years later by Mary's daughter, and we see Mary has made an incredible success of herself as a dressmaker, and her daughter has become the first black to enter a private girls' school. Mary's dressmaking enterprise continues to flourish, and the advantages wrought by her success allow the daughter to marry well and have a fine home and all the security that Mary couldn't have imagined as a little roadwalker years back. This coming-full-circle novel is elevating and well-spoken, and should be promoted to all readers of serious fiction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679432333
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/19/1994
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.68 (h) x 1.21 (d)

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