John, a black boy in 1935 Harlem, wakes up on his fourteenth birthday. No one seems to remember this until his mum gives him some money to go down-town to see a movie. When he gets back he finds his brother Roy, the apple of his father's eye, has been stabbed.
The action shifts to the Temple of Fire where his father preaches. John, his friend Elisha, John's father and mother and aunt and assorted women gather for the Saturday night 'tarry' service. As they pray the characters remember their lives: their loves, their happinesses and losses, their regrets. The lot of the Black American in this place and time is to suffer: single mothers mourn their children born our of wedlock (and in sin), boys get knifed and jailed, lynchings occur, men and women toil at menial and unfulfilling jobs.
The dialogue, with amens and Jesus, scattered at random, and with words emphasised by italicising seemingly in the wrong place, has a strong sense of African American dialect. And the language and style of the book is heavily infused with the preaching styles, hallelujah, of the Black Gospel church. And it lays heavy on the soul and on God and the need to be able to go to heaven on Judgement day.
It is a book full of prayer and guilt.
And when the hymns and the speaking in tongues have finished we are still left with the realisation that a man, even a preacher, even a preacher's son, has to struggle to be good and to climb the mountain for all his long life.
A lyrical evocation of the Gospel tradition. November 2013; 256 pages
Even better by this author: Giovanni's Room.
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57