Thursday, November 5, 2015

Book Review: Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (#NaBloPoMo)

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is kind of like a collection of short stories about 12 different characters. The 13th character is Hattie Shepherd, a strong - willed woman who moves to Philadelphia from Jim Crow Georgia in 1923. Each of the stories is mainly one or two of her children (one is actually about her grandchild) told at different points in their lives. We also continue to get a picture of the kind of woman and mother that Hattie was through each of their stories.
Generally, I don't like short stories and I was a little disgruntled for a while thinking that I had been bamboozled into reading 12 of them. However, each tale is well- written and rich in character. We hear of Hattie through her children, but also of the country in a trying time, of her childless sister, of Willie, the juju woman.

Hattie is said to be bitter, angry, and lacking in "tenderness." But she is described as determined and focused. She is hell bent on keeping her children safe, fed, and alive even when she has to make tough choices for their benefit. The first story is about the death of her newborn twins which is interesting on several levels as we learn that her pregnancy is really why she and her husband married after having stopped their romance. I felt bad for her, struggling in a marriage to a man that loved her in his own way, but also made as much time for gambling and other women as he did for his wife and children. Hattie was left to run a household and manage their poverty and brood with a heavy hand and a heavier heart. She makes hard sacrifices for the sake of her children and only once is there an attempt to find a different kind of life for herself.

Each story, too, illustrates how it takes our own adulthood to start to understand our parents and what they do for us, to see them for the fallible people that they are. Alice, one of the daughters, must take a look around and take some ownership for what her life has become, despite her childhood experience.

A thing I hated: each of the men (with few exceptions) were good- for- nothing asshats. The kind of men who think that good women are lucky to get to support their triflin' asses. (Whoops. Sorry, Didn't mean to code-switch there. I must have some feelings about that.) Anyway, Hattie's two brothers - in - law are the only two men who are decent male human beings, as far as we know. Every other man is a womanizer, an alcoholic, or a heavy gambler. There's a powerful scene between Hattie and August (her husband) in which he talks about how hard it is to be a Black man. But Hattie's having none of that nonsense. It's hard to be a Black woman, too. Harder still when you're carrying a man on your back... that's not a quote... but you'll recognize the scene when you come to it.

In 1941, Jacob Lawrence, then just 23 years old, completed a series of 60 small tempera paintings with text captions about the Great Migration, the multi-decade mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North that started around 1915. Within months of its making, the series entered the collections of The Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Memorial Gallery (today The Phillips Collection), with each institution acquiring half of the panels. Lawrence’s work is now an icon in both collections, a landmark in the history of modern art, and a key example of the way that history painting was radically reimagined in the modern era.

More about America's Great Migration?

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