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The Caribbean Review of Books
“A tersely elegant memoir.”
In this unflinchingly honest memoir, Paule Marshall offers an indelible portrait of a young black woman coming of age as a novelist in a literary world dominated by white men.
This elegant, passionate, elliptical memoir of self-exploration and revelation transports the reader well beyond its origins as a series of Harvard lectures. The title is an allusion to novelist and MacArthur fellow Marshall's (The Fisher King) geographic, intellectual and emotional triangulation among the peoples and locales that shaped her-Barbados and Grenada; the Bajan community of Brooklyn; and Africa. Marshall begins with a 1965 State Department-sponsored tour of Europe in the company of her idol, Langston Hughes, when she was a young author and civil rights activist. The book continues as a meditation on "Bodies of Water" (the theme of the original lecture series) as diverse as the James River, the principal port of entry for African slaves in the 18th century, and the Caribbean. Among other personal stories that give her book artistic flair are Marshall's early encounter with the redoubtable editor Hiram Haydn; her disturbing experience with another editor, who was giddy over her upcoming tour of a Virginia plantation ("Our association ended shortly thereafter," Marshall writes drily); and her father's odd devotion to Father Divine. When the USIS again taps Marshall, this time for a mission to Nigeria, the reception she and other U.S. representatives elicit from some of their hosts-welcome combined with shame over their ancestors' complicity in the slave trade-is revelatory. 6 illus. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
While still a young, unknown author, Marshall (Brown Girl, Brownstones) had the good fortune of being taken under the wing of Langston Hughes. In 1959, Hughes nominated her first novel for national prizes, making sure she had the opportunities to travel abroad on behalf of America's State Department. His death in 1967 left her "with a continued sense of loss." Brooklyn, Barbados, Grenada, Europe, and Africa are the places Marshall returns to over and over again, both physically and metaphorically. Her parents, who emigrated from Barbados before meeting in New York, had a difficult relationship, exacerbated by unrealistic expectations and financial stress. To her credit, Marshall places her family's tensions within the larger context of community tensions. She doesn't offer blame; instead, she's generous, gentle, humorous, and honest in her recounting of family history and her coming-of-age as a writer. Her memoir is highly recommended for all libraries.
Posted April 16, 2014
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