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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Novels for Black History Month

February is Black History Month so I thought I’d share my suggestions for novels about racism, books found on Schatje’s Shelves. 

Sounder by William Armstrong traces the sorrow and abiding faith of a poor African-American boy in the 19th century in the South.

In the Heat of the Night by John Ball – A murder pits black, big-city homicide expert Virgil Tibbs against the bigoted police department in a small Southern town when they are forced to join forces to solve the crime.

Stones by William Bell - Garnet Havelock, who knows what it’s like to be on the outside and not one of the crowd, becomes caught up in a mystery centred in his community.  As he and a friend draw closer to the truth, they uncover a horrifying chapter in the town’s history, and learn how deep-seated prejudices and persecution from the past can still reverberate in the present.

Philida by André Brink - The year is 1832 and South Africa is rife with rumours about the liberation of slaves.  Philida, the mother of four children by the son of her master, is sold but, unwilling to accept this fate, Philida tests the limits of her freedom by setting off on a journey determined to survive and be free.

Your Blues Ain't Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell recalls the racially motivated murder of Emmett Till, a black teenager killed for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier – An English Quaker is stranded in Ohio in 1850 and forced to rely on strangers.  She becomes drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad.

More by Austin Clarke - Idora Morrison reflects on her life as a black immigrant to Toronto.

The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke is set on the post-colonial West Indian island of Bimshire in 1952.  The novel unravels over the course of 24 hours but spans the lifetime of one woman and the collective experience of a society informed by slavery.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin tells the story of two women:  a seventeen-year-old slave planning her escape from a plantation in 1853 Virginia and a young lawyer in 2004 New York looking for a good plaintiff for a class action suit seeking reparation for the descendants of American slaves.

Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor - Nineteen-year-old Mikey and his parents, Silas and Lydia Ali, are members of the black middle class in post-apartheid South Africa.  Mikey discovers that he may be the product of his mother's rape by a white police lieutenant and sets out to explore his familial roots.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison chronicles the travels of a young, nameless black man as he moves through the hellish levels of American intolerance and cultural blindness.

Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner - An aging black who has long refused to adopt the black's traditionally servile attitude is wrongfully accused of murdering a white woman.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg - Told in anecdote format, including short articles in the local newspaper by Dot Weems, this story focuses on Mrs. Threadgoode, an old lady in a nursing home, looking back on her life in Whistle Stop, Alabama. The book deals with a number of themes including racism.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines is a novel in the guise of the tape-recorded recollections of a black woman who has lived 110 years, who has been both a slave and a witness to the black militancy of the 1960's.

A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines - Set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation in the 1970s, this is a depiction of racial tensions arising over the death of a Cajun farmer at the hands of a black man.

Catherine Carmier by Ernest J. Gaines is a love story set in Louisiana, where African-Americans, Cajuns, and whites maintain an uneasy co-existence.

Of Love and Dust by Ernest J. Gaines introduces us to Marcus, a young African-American man who refuses to kowtow to the racist customs that defined life in the South in the 1940s. Marcus is awaiting trial for murder.

Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady is about a black Canadian who has spent his life trying to pass as white.

A Time to Kill by John Grisham - Life becomes complicated in the backwoods town of Clanton, Mississippi, when a black worker is brought to trial for the murder of the two whites who raped and tortured his young daughter.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom brings to life a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War.

Mama Flora’s Family by Alex Haley tells the story of Flora, a black girl born to a sharecropping family in Mississippi who later moves to Memphis, Tennessee, where her husband, Booker, is killed by white landowners.

Roots by Alex Haley re-captures his family's history in this drama of eighteenth-century slave Kunta Kinte and his descendants.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill spans the life of Aminata Diallo, born in West Africa in 1745 and kidnapped at the age of 11 by slavers.

Middle Passage by Charles Johnson is about an emancipated and very educated slave who stows away on a ship bound for Africa.

A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata tells the story of a blind white girl and a black man who find love together.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is the coming-of-age story of Lily Owen set in the early 1960s against a background of racial violence and unrest.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd - Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the wealthy Grimke household where she serves as the handmaid of Sarah Grimke.  What follows are their journeys over the next thirty-five years as they dramatically shape each other’s destinies.

Places in the Heart by Thomas Kinkade - Edna Spalding is a woman recently widowed who suddenly has to figure out how to support herself and two children during Depression times.  She is assisted by a Black man and a blind boarder who understand the bigotries and harshness of life in the 1930s.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee – In the first novel, Atticus Finch, a white lawyer in 1930s Alabama defends a black man accused of rape; the second is about a visit Scout makes to her father Atticus twenty years later.

Small Island by Andrea Levy examines class, race, and prejudice in London in 1948, when a new multiracial England began to form.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis begins with Hattie leaving the Jim Crow South for a better life in Philadelphia.  Spanning the years 1925 to 1980, the book follows Hattie’s children as they strive to find a place for themselves in the world.

Beloved by Toni Morrison tells the story of Sethe, an escaped slave who is still shackled by memories of her murdered child.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison -  Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley – A 91-year-old black man re-visits his life and the events that shaped it.  Racial issues are addressed since he and his family were not always treated fairly.

The Housemaid’s Daughter by Barbara Mutch gives a glimpse into South Africa in the early to mid-1900’s, when Apartheid is becoming more of a threat and danger to all who live there: black, white and coloured are all affected by the rules and dangers of breaking those rules.

The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks shows the life a black boy named Newton Winger who, at a young age, learns how to deal with racism and prejudice.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton is about a black South African, Absalom Kumalo, who murders a white man.

Too Late the Phalarope by Alan Paton tells the story of Pieter, a white policeman in South Africa, who has an affair with a native girl. He is betrayed and reported, and thus brings shame on himself and his family.

The Street by Ann Petry is about a young black woman and her struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the later 1940s.

A Taste of Reality by Kimberla Lawson Roby - When Anise, a black woman, applies for a promotion to manager of human resources, she's impeded by a management team that wants an all-white male staff. As Anise fights racism, job discrimination, and sexual harassment, she also finds herself in the midst of a divorce from her light-skinned husband, who wants a white wife.

Caucasia by Danzy Senna - Growing up in a biracial family in 1970s Boston, Birdie has seen her family disintegrate due to the increasing racial tensions. Her father and older sister move to Brazil, where they hope to find true racial equality, while Birdie and her mother drift through the country, eventually adopting new identities and settling in a small New Hampshire town

Betsey Brown by Ntozake Shange - This novel about a black family living in St. Louis in 1957 centers on Betsey, 13, who is restless, wants to "be somebody" and is being bused to a white school. Her mother and grandmother oppose and her father supports integration. When the father plans to take Betsey and her siblings to demonstrate against a racist hotel, the mother leaves home.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett - in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi,  as white socialite and a black maid join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe tells the trials of an old slave.  Published in 1852, this book won support for the anti-slavery cause in the U.S.

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron is an accounting, from Nat Turner's point of view, of the events that led to the only long-term revolt in the history of American slavery.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is the story of a boy and a runaway slave Jim as they travel down the Mississippi River on a raft.

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker takes place in the South and spans thirty years in the life of Celie, a poor southern black woman.  Alice Walker portrays the life of an innocent girl who is put through physical and emotional abuse.      

Meridian by Alice Walker takes a complicated look at black-on-white and black-on-black relations.  A large section of the novel deals with a marriage between a white woman and a black man.

The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker - Black tenant farmer Grange Copeland leaves his wife and son in Georgia to head North.  After meeting an equally humiliating existence there, he returns to Georgia, years later, to find his son, Brownfield, imprisoned for the murder of his wife.  As the guardian of the couple's youngest daughter, Grange Copeland is looking at his third -- and final -- chance to free himself from spiritual and social enslavement.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead chronicles a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.

Native Son by Richard Wright explores the race relations in Chicago in the 1940s. A black twenty-year old named Bigger Thomas accidentally kills a prominent white woman and then tries to cover it up.