Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Ginny Gall - Or Another Term for a Long Season in Hell

Common wisdom tells us that if we truly want to know another person, culture, or way of life, we must walk a mile in those shoes. If Ta-Nahisi Coates' version of being a black man in the United States ( is too harsh, and you would prefer to do your learning through fiction, then have I got the book for you!
Product Details
The richest, lushest novel that I've read so far this year comes from an author, Charlie Smith, with whom I wasn't familiar, though he's won prizes galore. He is renowned as both a poet and a novelist so you shouldn't be surprised at the pure lyricism of his writing style. Even when the tale itself is teeming with brutality, cruelty, sorrow, and unspeakable yearning, it is so beautifully told that you simply cannot put it down.
I fell in love with Delvin Walker from the moment his mother, Capable Florence, pushed his "gummy little bushy-haired head" out of her body while climbing the back porch steps of her Chattanooga, Mississippi, shack. It was July, 1913, and though they were free blacks on paper, Jim Crow laws insured that there were no opportunities for women like Cappie who turned tricks in the old slave quarters to feed her brood of babies.
But Cappie had a gift that she shared with Delvin, stories. Tales of knights and palaces and kings lulled Delvin to sleep in the afternoons. By the age of four he was teaching himself to read from the funny papers left outside the general store. He dreamed that he would travel, see far-flung places, and succeed in the white world. Yet we sense, from the first paragraph of this incredible book, that life won't be easy for this dreamy, naïve boy.
Smith is so damn good that he lures us with his mesmerizing words (at least the optimists like me) into believing that maybe this time things can be different. After Cappie disappears, a loss that will haunt Delvin all his days, a wonderfully interesting man rescues Delvin, taking him in, teaching him to love Shakespeare, and to honor the living and the dead. Mr. Oliver, you see, runs the town's only Negro funeral home and he bestows a selfless generosity on young Delvin that of course, is too good to last.
Whispers of lynchings, followed by the burning of a Negro church, and an ugly incident with some white boys, which may or may not have ended in a death, set Delvin on a lifelong path of running, returning, and running again. Riding the rails from state to state, Delvin falls in hopeless love with a woman he can never win, learns the truth of America's black history from a professor with a traveling museum, and has his spirit crushed but not broken in a prison cell.
This masterful novel, written by a white man from Georgia, is truly a gift for anyone who wants to spend some time inside the mind,  body, and yes, the shoes, of a man who, because of the color of his skin, will never reap even the simplest American benefits, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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