Friday, May 31, 2013

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

About the Book

Fifteen years old and blazing with the hope of a better life, Hattie Shepherd fled the horror of the American South on a dawn train bound for Philadelphia.

Hattie’s is a tale of strength, of resilience and heartbreak that spans six decades. Her American dream is shattered time and again: a husband who lies and cheats and nine children raised in a cramped little house that was only ever supposed to be temporary.

She keeps the children alive with sheer will and not an ounce of the affection they crave. She knows they don’t think her a kind woman — but how could they understand that all the love she had was used up in feeding them and clothing them.

How do you prepare your children for a world you know is cruel?

The lives of this unforgettable family form a searing portrait of twentieth century America. From the revivalist tents of Alabama to Vietnam, to the black middle-class enclave in the heart of the city, to a filthy bar in the ghetto, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is an extraordinary, distinctive novel about the guilt, sacrifice, responsibility and heartbreak that are an intrinsic part of ferocious love.


My greatest fear when reading a book is completely missing the point, that over arching thrust of emotion-mixed-with-plot-held-together-with-character-and-dipped-in-language; that moment of pure clarification and understanding for author’s need and voice, that instant connection. Oh, we’ve all had that experience with a book/character.

I started this book with very little attention to devote to it, don’t think for a minute that I didn’t want to read it, oh I wanted to read it, and specifically requested it, but as my schedule filled up and my mind began to float elsewhere I was petrified that this book would be wasted on me. It’s a very forgiving tale that even in my inability to give it the romance it deserved (quiet nights with tea), it solemnly skipped alongside me.

It proudly pushes itself forward into the pack of Toni Morrison’s Precious, sans the depression of Alice Walker's The Colour Purple, a novel which left me bereft with grief that I could barely stand to look at anyone.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is more an exploration of motherhood and womanhood, through the eyes and stories of children; all sewn together with sexuality, music, art, family, a tid-bit of witch-craft, mental instability, life, death, grief and, finally, disappointment. Twelve chapters explore and divulge, a sliver at a time, the pieces of Hattie that she keeps all hidden – all told through the eyes of her children. A strong, independent, black woman struggling to support her family tries to make it work, all the while hoping for something bigger and better for her children.

We never expect a flurry of plot twists, breath-holding, or mysterious conjuring of bodies in books such as this one; it’s merely a spectrum of human nature and the ripple effect thereof. We need more books from talented women like this, who force us to congratulate the suffering and revel in the glory.

This book is gorgeous in telling, heartbreaking in the reality of it all, and subtle in hints.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was chosen as one of Exclusive Books' Recommended Reads for March.  See my Boeke posts here.

About the Author

Ayana Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her first novel.

Find the Author


Melinda @ The Book Musings said...

I have heard so many good things about this book and have received many recommendations that I should read it! I'm glad you liked it, and I might pick it up myself!

Visiting from Lauren's email, love your blog - simple and elegant.

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