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Memphis by Tara M Stringfellow

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Memphis by Author Tara M Stringfellow
UK Publication: April 2022
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: [★★★]

This ARC was provided by John Murray Press (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

One word review – ouch

Synopsis from Goodreads:  A spellbinding debut novel tracing three generations of a Southern Black family and one daughter’s discovery that she has the power to change her family’s legacy.

In the summer of 1995, ten-year-old Joan, her mother, and her younger sister flee her father’s violence, seeking refuge at her mother’s ancestral home in Memphis. Half a century ago, Joan’s grandfather built this majestic house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglass–only to be lynched days after becoming the first Black detective in Memphis. This wasn’t the first time violence altered the course of Joan’s family’s trajectory, and she knows it won’t be the last. Longing to become an artist, Joan pours her rage and grief into sketching portraits of the women of North Memphis–including their enigmatic neighbor Miss Dawn, who seems to know something about curses.

Unfolding over seventy years through a chorus of voices, Memphis weaves back and forth in time to show how the past and future are forever intertwined. It is only when Joan comes to see herself as a continuation of a long matrilineal tradition–and the women in her family as her guides to healing–that she understands that her life does not have to be defined by vengeance. That the sole weapon she needs is her paintbrush.

Inspired by the author’s own family history, Memphis–the Black fairy tale she always wanted to read–explores the complexity of what we pass down, not only in our families, but in our country: police brutality and justice, powerlessness and freedom, fate and forgiveness, doubt and faith, sacrifice and love.

My Thoughts: In some ways this is a great story of girl power in others it is a painful exploration of race relations in the US from 1943 to 2003. The narrative is told from the view point of female only characters from different generations but all related to each other.

The way the book is told means we know the outcome of some events before we know what the events are for example we know that Joan’s grandfather is lynched but we are a heck of a way through the switching narratives before we learn why.

The book explores the impact of world events and how they have affected the North family. We see WWII, the twin towers and parts of the war on terror. In one particular case we see how violence as part of the army begins to translate to violence at home. We also see gang violence and how that impacts a community.

I loved the female centric nature of the novel and the way that while the women may make choices that others don’t agree with the attitude is not I told you so but what do you need. I appreciated the fact that all these women are talented in their own way especially Joan and her aunt and August and her hair. It was also great to see the women taking charge of their education and becoming whatever they want to be.

I also found it great that Memphis was almost a character as well, the descriptions of the land, the seasons, the community and the music shop all appealed to me enormously.

For a debut novel this one really packs a punch and it does make you think about what it meant and what it still does mean to be a black woman in the US.

Who would like this? I would recommend this to anyone who wants to understand more about the lives of black people in Memphis and who isn’t afraid of reading painful events.

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Roger Dobson #

    As a British white man (now in his mid 50’s) with a self-discovered love of Memphis I visited this fabulous city in March of 2016 and I explored it extensively for two weeks during which time I pretty much stumbled across and/or discussed (the thankfully improving but not there yet by quite some distance) ‘both sides of the coin’ regarding many of the issues raised in this outstanding book. History can’t be changed I’m afraid but attitudes can be if we learn from it and I really hope that there is a TV or film company out there that has got the guts to faithfully adapt this incredible piece of contemporary-historical writing from the page to the screen. If you have never visited the city of Memphis you are missing out on a massive personal insight that would help you mentally visualise an ever changing area of the world and Tara M. Stringfellow, you deserve every plaudit that is available for this remarkable and brave piece of literature.

    Like

    October 31, 2022

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