Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Southern Reading Challenge; pub in '08
My son just said to me, "Didn't you just start that book yesterday?" Always the sign of a good book, one that I just race through. I've been reading some good reviews of this one in the Southern Reading Challenge. It's a classic southern novel, tackling racist life in Mississippi just after the second world war. Told from several different points of view, two families - one black and one white, living on the same farm, deal with a terrible tragedy. Several characters, all likable in their own ways, narrate the action.
There's Laura. A city woman who married late, she loves her older husband, but with the return of Henry's younger charming brother from the war, she is forced to examine the decisions she has made.
Henry has a strong sense of family obligation. He tries to do the right thing, but living in the Mississippi Delta, racist behaviour is ingrained. He takes his hateful father in to live with his wife and children, even though Pappy makes everyone miserable. Henry just wants to own land, and be a farmer, but loyalty and proper behaviour is important too.
Florence is the wife of Hap, the black tenant farmer. She's a midwife who comes to help out Laura in the cabin. Her son Ronsel has just returned from the war, and he isn't fitting in on the farm.
Ronsel was a decorated soldier in an all black battalion and is having a hard time adjusting to his subservient role in town after the freeing life he was able to live in Europe. He and Jamie bond over their war memories and are able to forget the race differences, much to the consternation of all the families.
And Jamie. He is really the catalyst for much of the tension - with his father, his brother, his sister-in-law, and with Ronsel. Pappy never narrates, but the level of hatred I felt as I read about him made him a character unable to narrate.
There is much tackled in this novel, but it all flows so seamlessly, that it wasn't until I tried to write a summary that I realized how complex this was. Life in Mississippi before Dr King and the civil rights movement, the returning soldiers from war who are unable to fit back into their former life, and the different types of love within a family are the main ideas I noticed.
Thanks to Maggie for sending me the book! I won it in the Haiku contest of the Southern Reading Challenge for my haiku from The Secret Life of Bees. And it's autographed.