Friday, January 11, 2013
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie: A Novel by Ayana Mathis
A DEBUT OF EXTRAORDINARY DISTINCTION: through the trials of one unforgettable family, Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration, a story of love and bitterness and the promise of a new America.
In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointments and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation.
Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis's The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last - glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life. An emotionally transfixing page-turner, a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity, an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream, Mathis's first novel heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.
You know the episode where Jerry tells Elaine that she will be stunned by soup (one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld ever!) and she can't believe that soup could stun? Well, the same applies to books - they too, can stun. And, that is precisely what this book did to me - it stunned me into a state of shock and awe. Seriously, it did - the book is just that brilliant! I can honestly declare in my humble opinion that Ayana Mathis's debut novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is the epitome of what a great novel should be. It has excellent writing, unforgettable characters, and heart-wrenching stories that will touch your soul and break your heart. This book is just so fracking good that I can't help but want to shout about its AMAZING-ness from the rooftops. I mean it. This book literally floored me - I grabbed it off my shelf and started reading it and the next thing you know, I'm on the floor completely immersed in Hattie and her children's worlds. Its just what this book does - it commands your attention with its brilliant writing and compelling story lines.
Just check out these quotes and you'll understand what I mean:
"Hattie clambered from the train, her skirt still hemmed with Georgia mud, the dream of Philadelphia round as a marble in her mouth and the fear of it a needle in her chest."
"She smelled the absence of trees before she saw it."
"Pearl stood and took a step toward Benny, but he was sitting with his head in his hands and did not look at her. He won't love Ella, she realized. She had fooled herself into thinking that he would. ""Oh!"" she said aloud and sank down onto the couch."
"...Hattie wanted to give her babies names that weren't already chiseled on a headstone in the family plots in Georgia, so she gave them names of promise and of hope, reaching-forward names, not looking-back ones."
Do you see what I mean? How with a simple sentence, Mathis's words can evoke so much emotion and provide such vivid descriptions - you can feel the fear and excitement Hattie feels as she takes her first steps in a new city; you can empathize with Pearl when she has her moment of clarity, because who hasn't ignored the glaring truth before and instead marched ahead with only their misguided hopes to lead them; and you can feel the love Hattie holds for her children when she chooses their names - she wants nothing but the best for them (better than what she had as a child). These quotes provide a mere glimpse of what this fantastic book has to offer - stories so poignant and deep, that you will not be able to tear your eyes away from the pages for anything (seriously, you will skip dinners, phone calls, reality show marathons, etc.). And when the last page is turned, you will realize that you have just had one of the BEST reading experiences ever!
Now tell me, doesn't that sound like a book you want to read? Well, believe me, it is. So, I'm not going to write anymore about it, because I don't want to spoil anything for you. I'm just going to suggest that you go out and pick up a copy for yourself and dive into Hattie's world filled with struggles, loss, heartbreaks and the ugly realities of life - you will be so happy you did. And to think, had I not read my O magazine last month, I may never have come across this book. You see, Oprah chose The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis for her book club pick and for once I decided to read along (so to speak). And, I'm so glad I did, or I would have missed out on such a fantastic piece of literature, and that would have really sucked. So, thanks Oprah!