The Book Mark

Books that make the grade.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (B) by Ayana Mathis is obviously an Oprah book club selection that is filled with the required pathos, grief and suffering necessary of an Oprah selection.

Hattie is a young black woman who leaves her native Georgia behind and starts her newer more liberated life in Philadelphia, PA. At seventeen, she meets August, the man her mother has advised her is “no good”. Despite the warnings, she marries him and immediately gives birth to twins the first children in a long line of many.  Unable to deal with cold and hardship these twins die from pneumonia.  Their loss forever changes Hattie and her approach to life and love.

The twelve tribes refer to the succeeding 11 children she has and the granddaughter she raises in the end.  Told in a timeline and in the voices of each of her children, the reader bears witness to the hardships each sustain. Poverty, alcohol, drugs, sex, illness and a bit of wealth take the family into desperate situations. These situations are somewhat typical of some of the black people who fled the Jim Crow South hoping for a better life.  The picture that Mathis paints is clear and accurate.  Spanning from 1925 to 1980, life isn’t easy and struggles persist shaping Hattie into a hard and often feared woman. A mother who does what she needs for all her children to survive.

The story is well written and the characters and their stories are well developed. As each child’s voice is heard chapter by chapter, I often felt like I was reading short stories.  This made it a bit easier to read since they all led such tragic lives.

So if you enjoy good writing and sad stories, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie are for you.  I have to admit I need to move away from books about dysfunctional families and head in the direction of something more uplifting and happy. Now where do I begin?




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