by J. California Cooper


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In this wise, beguiling, and beautiful novel set in the era of the Civil War, award-winning playwright and author J. California Cooper paints a haunting portrait of a woman named Always and four generations of her African-American family.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385411721
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/28/1991
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 196,188
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 770L (what's this?)

About the Author

J. California Cooper is the author of several novels, including Some People, Some Places, and six collections of stories. She was honored as Black Playwright of the Year, and her work received the American Book Award, the James Baldwin Writing Award, and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association. She died in 2014.

Reading Group Guide

In her acclaimed novels and short stories, J. California Cooper portrays the lives of African Americans, bringing to light the impact of history, social and economic hardship, and enduring cultural strengths on the experiences of individuals and families. The questions, discussion topics, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of her works, which range across time and place but share the passion, humor, and wisdom that mark J. California Cooper as one of the most original and engaging storytellers of our time.

1. Cooper has chosen an unusual narrative voice in Family. How does the use of an unorthodox narrator—"this dead-but-not-gone thing" [p. 37]—contribute to the emotional impact of the story as it unfolds? Does the narrator's personal perspective strengthen or undermine the credibility of the novel? Is it more effective than a diary, a fictionalized memoir, or other common forms of first-person narratives, and if so, why?

2. Like her mother before her, Clora commits suicide rather than continuing life as a slave. What gives her daughter, Always, the power to go on despite the dreadful things she experiences? What particular motivations does Always have that set her apart, and what steps does she take to ensure a better future for herself? Because of their light complexions, Always's siblings Peach and Sun are able to enjoy successful lives in the white world. Are the decisions they make—including Sun's failure to secure Always's freedom because she is "not white . . . enough" [p. 125]—justifiable within the context of the time? Clora says, "My blood ran like it was let loose from a stream into the river, into the ocean . . . Ran into the world, hidden, but THERE" [p. 63]. Are the implications of this statement totally positive? What are the costs of keeping one's heritage secret, as Peach does?

3. In addition to graphic scenes of violence, how does Cooper convey the profound evils of the institution of slavery? What incidents bring to life the toll of slavery on the black characters' intellectual and emotional lives? Clora declares, "Them white people made hate. . . . That's what they made and that's what they got" [p. 55]. Are any of the white characters in the book exempt from this condemnation? To what extent are the whites victims of the system they created? What do the stories of Sun and Loretta, and of Soon and Doak Jr., reveal about the factors that sustained slavery? What assumptions about the relationship between the races still influence the opinions and beliefs of both African Americans and whites in American society today?

4. What do Cooper's novels share with other books, both fiction and nonfiction, that you have read about the Civil War period? Do her descriptions of the relationships between African Americans and whites before and immediately following the war differ from your previous impressions or beliefs? In what ways does Cooper challenge the traditional depiction of the boundaries between slave and master, black and white? Which characters or relationships do you find particularly surprising? Are the white characters as fully developed as the African Americans are?

5. Cooper touches on a wide range of social, economic, and political issues in her writing, including the historical divisions between races and classes; interracial relationships; the significance of complexion in society in general and within the African American community specifically; and the importance of education. What techniques does she use to incorporate these subjects without disrupting the flow of the stories? In what ways can fiction be more effective than nonfiction in revealing the forces that shape our world?
3.In describing Cooper's writing, Alice Walker said,

6. In describing Cooper's writing, Alice Walker said, "Her style is deceptively simple and direct and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a foolish person's foolishness cannot be heard." How do these traits mirror classic forms of storytelling, from myths and Biblical parables to the folk stories passed down through oral traditions? Why do you think Cooper may have chosen to use these timeless techniques to tell her stories?

Customer Reviews

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Family 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 49 reviews.
Courtney Johnson More than 1 year ago
I cant lie. The first time I read this book I cried like a baby. The importance of knowing my family history and being African American made this book really get to me. I put myself within the shoes of the characters and I was able feel the feelings they felt. This book is one of my best reads.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book when I was in middle school, I am now a College Freshman and I was in search of this book. My horrible memory remembered above all, THIS book. That has got to stand for something. This book can take you back and bring forward in you an understanding of your heritage you never thought you'd witness. I recommend this book to my race and all races even if you've got a something else in you. This book is truly hypnotizing and for a breif moment, you are actually back there.
Two2dogs More than 1 year ago
I loved this story, my 1st by J Calif Cooper but not my last, I want to read all her books! This book was highly recommended by a friend now I highly recommend it to my whole family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book when I was in 4th grade, then read it again in middle school. I can still vividly remember passages from this book, and some of the obstacles that the characters went through. I will definitely have my children read this book. There are so many lessons to glean from it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written, Cooper masterfully expressed the feelings and senses of pure joy, raw pain and the free spirit of each character, especially Always and her ever-present mother. Cooper shows that freedom has so many meanings. Well done!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful book although it made me sad for the children and the life they had to be given. This book is a must read. I alone have read it 3 times and never got tired of reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great story, but far too short.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A bittersweet mix of love, pain, and family. A great read, finished in one day. Nonetheless interesting, a learning experience for everyone assigned this book in my African American History Class (Adelphi University). Thank you Ms. Darling!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written. The flow is smooth and on-going, a non-stop read. The novel is set during the time of slavery. It's about a woman (Clora) who wants to keep her family together, but, however, during that time period, keeping a family together was hard to do. However, Clora dies in the novel, but her spirit still lives on, as depicted on the cover. From Clora's spirit, she's allowed you to visit each of her children from the United States to France. We experience the pain and joy of each child. From Always (her oldest child) to Plum (her youngest). Reading 'Family', you will melt right into the characters and you will find yourself loving it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book years ago when my grandmother reccomended it. Worth the buy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Crept in cautiously this scared her she had on a dog collar that was locked onto her neck with a tag on it that said snuffles from her previous owner the collar was impossible to take off a reminder of her past
nolagras More than 1 year ago
I was unfamiliar with J. California Cooper's writing until I read Family for a discussion series at the local library. I am so grateful for the opportunity. Her POV choice, characterization, and writing style pull the reader through from the "cosmic" beginning to the end.There are very few ways to describe the horrific wrongness of slavery adequately. That is why we need the creative strength of Cooper's characters telling their stories and both defining and praising the need for family. Read this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Red nodded quickly, then ran there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You arent jordan. If you are then how old r u
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Haha awesome pet hobo!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago is this is
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Your not the real jordan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its me toby is this the right place?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Add me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Hhhhhhello anybody here"he wimpers
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi anya remember me? From hamters rslt 1. What are you guys doing? Are you skiing? Love both snow and water skiing.I am going to colorado for my ninth year in a row to ski this january. Do you actually ski or are you just pretending?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
-_-* Throws another water balloon.