Promise: A Novel

Promise: A Novel

by Minrose Gwin


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In the aftermath of a devastating tornado that rips through the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, at the height of the Great Depression, two women worlds apart—one black, one white; one a great-grandmother, the other a teenager—fight for their families’ survival in this lyrical and powerful novel

“Gwin’s gift shines in the complexity of her characters and their fraught relationships with each other, their capacity for courage and hope, coupled with their passion for justice.” — Jonis Agee, bestselling author of The River Wife

A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a massive funnel cloud flashing a giant fireball and roaring like a runaway train careened into the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people, not counting an unknown number of black citizens, one-third of Tupelo’s population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.

When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung by the terrifying winds into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family—her hardworking husband, Virgil, her clever sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Dreama, and Promise, Dreama’s beautiful light-skinned three-month-old son.

Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs’ dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she’s found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him.

During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them. Drawing on historical events, Minrose Gwin beautifully imagines natural and human destruction in the deep South of the 1930s through the experiences of two remarkable women whose lives are indelibly connected by forces beyond their control. A story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race, Promise reminds us of the transformative power and promise that come from confronting our most troubled relations with one another.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062471727
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/12/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 285,593
Product dimensions: 7.70(w) x 5.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Minrose Gwin is the author of The Queen of Palmyra, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick and finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award, and the memoir Wishing for Snow, cited by Booklist as “eloquent” and “lyrical”—“a real life story we all need to know.” She has written four scholarly books and coedited The Literature of the American South. She grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, hearing stories of the Tupelo tornado of 1936. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Promise 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
gaele More than 1 year ago
Gwin tells the tale of the 1936 Tupelo tornado from two perspectives: Dovey, an African-American laundress and Jo, a young white girl and daughter of a Judge and schoolteacher. Simply surviving the storm when so many didn’t, then holding on to hope and determination to survive and find family and help become the skeleton of this tale – allowing readers in to lives and situations that feel plausible and probable, even as some of the underlying discrimination and unfairness persist. Working from actual accounts, guessing at numbers of affected (African Americans and their names and numbers weren’t counted), and managing to bring a story of intersected lives through proximity and abuse to life. The devastation and shock from the two survivors when they see just how the landscape has changed: rain, hail, wind and mud, all concealed in darkness that hides other dangers, human and topographical. The unending scenes of death and featherless chickens, lack of potable water and food, dry clothing, and no shoes, we see the ‘make-do’ personal caretaking as Dovey continues to put one foot forward in her search for husband, granddaughter and great-grandbaby. As part of the government’s efforts to alleviate the depression, dispatches of relief arrive reasonably quickly: from medical staff and medicines to food, water, undertakers to care for the dead and the Red Cross: making lists of dead, survivors and proving intermediate and triage care for the citizens. And to be clear – the lists were of white citizens, even as the black citizens were provided minimal assistance as well. Through Dovey’s story we see a life of struggle and tumult: yet full of love of family- and her story unfolds with tragedies and emotion, tying us to her search and finding light in her simple belief that she will find her family alive and well. Through Jo’s story, we see a young woman who is fanciful and often unrealistic, unable to remember (and it feels more like she doesn’t see it as important) Dovey’s name, even as she demands, orders and lastly cajoles her to send someone back to help. More of Jo’s upbringing (and callous disregard – if recognized as a hateful thing later) show as she demands (often imperiously) action from others, black and white, action to care for her needs and that of the brother she found dangling in the bushes at the front of her house. From horrific injuries, fears and the simple struggle to survive: the emotional intensity of the story never quite leaves, coming to a head when Jo with her little brother (much changed from the fractious and colicky child she’d known the past months) finally come face to face with Dovey, now in boxcar housing arranged by the Red Cross – and secrets and realities are revealed – in ways that only time could show if effects were long-lasting for Jo. Family secrets and shames unearthed, families of privilege brought low and unable to exhibit even the most basic of survival skills, and the ever-present separation between the races: in medical care, housing, basic necessities and even casual encounters on the street stand out shockingly: that such an unimportant affectation should be so integral to the society as to be adhered to in times when simple necessities become luxuries is a testament to the stupidity and ignorance that is integral in racism. Unfortunately, the systematic complicity of that racism extended to record-keeping by the government: historic accounts of this story are lily-white, and from the a
rendezvous_with_reading 21 days ago
The reader is catapulted right into the center of the storm of action. Thank you to William Morrow Books and TLC Book Tours for this free copy to review. If you've ever wondered what it might be like to survive the devastation of an F5 tornado, this novel will give you an up close and personal look. The author was inspired by experiences from her grandparents who survived this tragedy. The author sets you right in the middle of the action and horror of the aftermath through some very tense scenes. Dovey and Jo find that the tornado has revealed some ugly secrets and no one will ever be the same again. I found this a quick read that grabbed my attention. Afterwards, I did some additional reading online and found some amazing footage of Tupelo after the tornado. Another interesting fact is that among the survivors were one-year-old Elvis Presley and his mother, Gladys. His father, Vernon, was out of town looking for work at that time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Short and sweet*******outstanding. Buy it, read it, love it!!!!!
224perweek More than 1 year ago
Kind of dull. Was hoping for more excitement due to tornado. Loved the time era. Characters were ok. Actually in this case, there was too much focus on individuals rather then the story itself.
READAHOLIC-ZONE1 More than 1 year ago
Minrose Gwin deserves a standing ovation for PROMISE. This is the most outstanding book based on true events that I have read. Hence, this book stands alone above all others due to so many factors which I will discuss later in the review. Gwin’s writing is powerful with the Characters jumping off the pages so as a reader, you're experiencing what it is like to walk in these individuals shoes, enduring everything that they had to go through in the backward thinking of 1936. As a result of the entitlement mentality of most white individuals in that era, one of the main characters Jo, had me so riled up I wanted to rip her from the pages and pound some sense into her 16-year-old head. Obviously, this is a prime example of how first-rate the prose is since I have never had my blood pressure go up because I was so enraged by a fictional character before. Breathe… The next main character is Dovey, who is a smart, hard working black laundress for white people. I just want to mention that usually in a review I don’t mention the color of the character's skin, but due to segregation in 1936 it matters immensely. Also, my opinion of race has nothing to do with this review, this is just how it’s looked upon in the book. Back to the review… Dovey is my favorite individual in the book. She loves her family more than anything and will fight to the death to protect them. They live a taxing life just for the most meager of necessities. Furthermore, when this tornado hits (and before) to be treated like animals because of the amount of melanin in their skin. Unquestionably, PROMISE should be on the bestseller list. It transports you back to 1936, as if you had a time machine, causing you to feel like what it is to go through a natural disaster when medicine was not highly advanced, it also meant different things depending on your race. When you wake up from the storm are you on a makeshift bed with the cockroaches or in a real hospital bed off the floor? Is your family on a list of where they had been transported/dead or are you searching through the dead bodies in alleys looking for your loved ones? This book hits you at the core of your being. Definitely, get your copy and let me know what you think! There are gobs more I want to write about this book and how I felt about it. Consequently, that is not my place. My place is just to tell the bare bones and how I felt about the style and writing of the book. I hope I did that well. One last thing, the author did phenomenal research about the tornado of 1936 and at the end of the book, you will find pictures of the destruction of Tupelo, Mississippi.