Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
But as we've seen, black America isn't just as
fissured as white America; it is more so." --Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Martha Southgate opens her first foray into adult fiction with several epigrams, including the above; and in these words resides the theme of her fascinating exploration of race in the 21st century.
A former books editor at Essence, and the author of an award-winning children's book, Southgate introduces readers to three captivating and complicated characters in her new novel: Jerome Washington, a classics professor at an elite New England prep school and the sole faculty member of color; Rashid Bryson, a young African-American student who challenges all of Jerome's preconceptions about ethnicity and the struggle for acceptance; and Jana Hansen, a white female teacher whose very presence forms a triangle linking her with Washington and Bryson.
Southgate's prose is sharply perceptive and acutely observant, and she has a strong command over her material, steering the course of her three characters toward an emotional climax. Ultimately, through her thoughtful characterization, she reveals that we are each prisoners of our own closed minds, our own limited thinking; and until we knock down those walls, which it is in our power to do, common ground and understanding will always remain
at a distance.
(Winter 2002 Selection)
An upscale New England prep school is the setting for an intense confrontation between a brilliant Latin teacher and a precocious student in Southgate's quietly stunning second novel (after Another Way to Dance). Jeremy Washington is the erudite African-American academic whose carefully constructed world begins to collapse with the simultaneous arrival of Jana Hansen, a high-spirited, divorced English teacher, and Rashid Bryson, one of the few African-American students at the elite Chelsea School. Hansen makes the first dent in Washington's emotional armor when the attraction between the two teachers bubbles over into a romantic night after they chaperone a school dance. But Hansen is put off by Washington's reluctance to help her with the troubled Bryson, who is struggling to deal with the tragic death of his brother, Kofi, a former scholarship student whose promising stint at a private school was curtailed when he was killed in a random shooting in their Brooklyn neighborhood. Washington cites the youth's lack of discipline as the reason for his unwillingness, but when Bryson calls out Washington after receiving a blatantly unfair grade in Latin class, their meeting strikes a chord from Washington's own troubled past that reveals the real source of his antipathy. Southgate is a compelling storyteller who slowly builds tension while drawing three marvelously diverse characters, and her plot transcends its racial themes as she steers her charges toward a surprising but believable ending. This is a deeply thoughtful, literate novel, and Southgate's ability to explore the social and emotional elements that unite and divide us establishes her as a serious talent. Agent, Geri Thoma. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Delving deeply into issues of race and class, this novel by the author of an award-winning young adult work (Another Way To Dance) is told through the voices of three characters: classics teacher Jerome Washington and new student Rashid Bryson, both African American, and Jana Hansen, a white teacher newly arrived at the predominantly white boys' school in New England. Jana's attempts to connect the two African American men ultimately fail despite their common ground. Rashid initially hopes the impenetrable and lonely Washington might become his mentor, but he quickly discovers how the devotee of Roman civilization earned his nickname, "Wooden Washington." In a painful conclusion, Rashid also confronts Washington's self-hatred and his troubling attitudes regarding his own race. As in her previous book, about a young, black ballet dancer, Southgate wrestles admirably with a thorny topic. Recommended. Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon, Eugene Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Adult/High School-Jerome teaches Latin at the Chelsea School, an elite Eastern boarding school for boys. He describes himself as "the only Negro on the faculty," and his love for classical civilization isolates him-but it also has taught him the discipline to wrest from the world, against all odds, this life that suits him so well. He is deeply committed to the institution's "values of order, decorum, rectitude," and disdainful of what he sees as the self-defeating attitude of many young blacks. Enter Rashid, a troubled but determined young African-American city boy. His imagination is captured by a Chelsea brochure's promise to "change the future"-but when he gets there, the school's WASP culture, and Jerome's hostility, keep him seriously off-balance. Jana, a new teacher, worked for many years in Cleveland's inner-city schools, where she always was the only white woman. She wants to help Rashid, and she and Jerome have a problematic sexual liaison. By the time the headmaster asks them all to recruit more "diverse" students, their lives are woven together in a complicated dynamic that reveals each character's deepest strengths and flaws. This moving story is told from their three perspectives in a simple, elegant, and graceful style. The book is easy to read yet resonates richly with many insights and issues that most readers should readily recognize and relate to.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Evocative but disappointingly inert, Southgate's second outing (after Another Way to Dance, 1996) depicts the conflicting tensions of experience and expectations that confront African-American males in traditionally white schools.
Jonathan Yardley The Washington Post Southgate has given us a genuinely tragic figure...a man brought down by his own tragic flaw, and thus a man who has much to teach us that far transcends race.
Liza Featherstone Newsday Beautifully executed....[The Fall of Rome] deserves to be widely read.
The New Yorker [Southgate] remains true to the enigma of her hero, and her rendering of his voice pensive, rueful, and entirely devoid of self-pity is convincing.
Michael Pakenham Baltimore Sun A tour de force of what might be called post-Movement race realities in the United States.