Gurley-Highgate makes her debut with an overplotted tale tracing the fortunes of a line of African-American women over two centuries. The story begins in 1749 with a defiant, unnamed woman kidnapped in Sierra Leone and sold as a slave in South Carolina. She gives birth to a daughter, Sapphire, who is sold at age five. Sapphire's life, like her mother's, consists of trials "that exceeded the limits of human tolerance"-she is beaten and raped, and she develops a hardness and a rebellious streak that she passes on to her three daughters and their offspring. Sister, the last of Sapphire's descendants to be born a slave, finds herself struggling to raise two children while enduring the betrayals of a philandering husband after the Civil War. Her granddaughter, Vyda Rose, defiantly embraces prostitution and eventually commits suicide to avoid arrest for killing a white man in self-defense. Vyda Rose's daughter, Jewell, bucks tradition in another way: she has a child by a white lover. Her biracial daughter becomes an acclaimed artist, expressing the legacy of her forebears in her paintings and sculptures of women. The dramatic developments come fast and furious, but though some of the women's stories are affecting, the characters themselves are thinly drawn. Gurley-Highgate waxes lyrical about Sapphire's legacy ("in the blood and the spirit and the person of this child lived all of the ancestors; and the child's own spirit, rising, on great black wings bearing without shame the scarlet past"), but her hurried sketches don't allow for a nuanced examination of slavery's toll. (Dec.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
This debut, which recalls Lalita Tademy's Cane River, begins in Africa and proceeds to trace the strength, pride, and defiant spirit of several generations of African American women. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A Detroit attorney's first novel, the tale of an African slave and her many descendants. Sierra Leone, 1749: Nameless and feared by all on board, a lissome slave with blue-black skin and cicatriced face is brought to the captain for his sexual pleasure-and nearly tears his throat out. Later, in Charleston, her daughter, named Sapphire, grows to womanhood knowing only that her mother died in a fire. She too becomes a slave, proud to a fault though under a cruel owner whose severe punishments are intended to set an example for others on his plantation. Sapphire is the mother of three when she and a newborn meet death at this master's hands, but her three daughters live on. In the 1870s, their descendant, Sister, begins to channel the spirit of Sapphire, reliving her life as she falls into one fit after another. Sarah, an old midwife and healer understands that Sister is possessed and not crazy, but the patient is past healing. Her good-for-nothing husband, Prince, keeps another woman on the side, Queen Marie, an independent sort who hopes that Prince will leave Sister once and for all but doesn't want his child or any other traditional traps. Prince is careful, but his young son, Prince Junior, isn't-and the boy ere long loses his virginity to his father's paramour, leaving Queen Marie unexpectedly pregnant, though by father or son she doesn't know. She gives birth to Vyda Rose, who becomes a successful prostitute with her own brothel. More of Sapphire's descendants appear and disappear on a crowded stage-until the birth of Clovey in 1932. Much loved and unusually intelligent, Clovey has rare insight into the lives of her ancestresses. Her precocious art of seeing is often inspired by hergreat-grandma Sister, whose otherworldly mien both fascinates and frightens Clovey. When Sister finally dies, Clovey re-creates these generations of unsung women in paintings that receive acclaim for their visionary power. The incantatory style is a bit over the top, but, still, Sapphire's Grave is a lyric paean to black women through the centuries.