Ayana Mathis’s Twelve Tribes of Hattie has been on my to-read list for years, and I’m sorry I waited so long. Early in the novel fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd, her mother, and sisters flee the backwoods of Georgia as part of the Great Migration, landing in Philadelphia. Even as she marvels that black people are not subjected to the brutality of southern racists, she watches her first-born twins die of poverty. As the years pass, she bears nine more children but never recovers from that early loss.
Each subsequent chapter tells the story of one child. Those narratives could stand alone, but together they show the pain and occasional triumph of people who began life with more than two strikes against them.
It was odd to read of a place at once so familiar and so foreign. Philadelphia had changed a great deal by the time I arrived fifty years later, but the neighborhood where Hattie struggled might as well have been the same with more cars and people.
The most vivid of the characters is Six. Called to preach as a youngster, he dazzles – especially the women – and follows in the footsteps of many men of the cloth where a chasm yawns between words and action.
contains among the best descriptions I’ve encountered of the Vietnam War experience, alternating with a clear representation of the disintegration of a marriage.
Again my only reservation had nothing to do with the contents but with the clunkiness and inflexibility of reading ebooks. I find the iBooks friendlier than Kindle but still nothing to paper and ink held in the hand.