Friday 12 November 2021
Tuesday 9 November 2021
Virginia, perhaps the whole of the south-eastern US, has been overwhelmed by a series of dreadful storms, made worse by blackouts. Da'Naisha Love and her grandmother are trying to weather it out as best they can, till the day armed white supremacists come driving their Charlotteville road, terrorising the neighbourhood. Along with friends and neighbours, Da'Naisha and her grandmother flee to the hills surrounding the city, specifically to the hilltop plantation house once home to Thomas Jefferson, now a tourist attraction. There, living on snacks from the gift shop, making a rough and ready home among the antiquated rooms, they settle down to hopefully wait out the violence rampaging in the city below.
But the tranquil-seeming house holds memories of a troubled past, for alongside the Jefferson family lived slaves to run the house and cultivate the plantation, and among them was Sally Hemings, mistress of Thomas Jefferson and mother to several of his children, from one of whom Da'Naisha and her grandmother are descended.
Set in a near-future of worsening climate and racial tension, the story begins as a flight by Da.Naisha and her neighbours to somewhere, anywhere, that might offer safety but becomes a determination to make a stand and claim what is rightfully theirs - both the heritage erased by white men, and their position as equals in society. It seems unthinkable to me that, firstly, white supremacists think they are the legitimate inhabitants of the US, and, secondly, any man would think it appropriate to have an affair with a woman he 'owned' and who could not refuse his advances - so it was a book that made me angry in several ways, but the taking over of Monticello, the reclaiming of its luxurious rooms echoes the feelings of many that history should reflect the stories of everyone, not just the ruling class.
A compelling read, mixing present day fears with historical insights. I'd heard before of Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings but this left me wanting to know more about it and the family dynamics of the Jefferson household, and Jefferson's attitude to the wider issue of slavery.
Wednesday 3 November 2021
Sofia and Antonia have been friends since childhood. Born to Italian-American families living next door to each other in Brooklyn their lives have been intertwined since birth. But there's more than proximity that binds them together. Both their fathers belong to the American Mafia, which envelops them in a wider family, while putting a distance between them and other children in the neighbourhood and at school.As a result the two girls become closer. Even so, from an early age there are marked differences between them - one happy to accept the role laid out for her, as wife, mother and home-maker; the other always wanting more, from eavesdropping the men's conversation as a child to wanting to earn her own place among them as an adult - but despite their differences, friendship holds Sofia and Antonia close, the way the Family does, even when the Family itself drives a wedge between them, after the 'disappearance' of one of their fathers.
This astounding debut is a story of friends, family and Family; a big warm novel exploring the ups and downs of female friendships against the backdrop of the totally male world of American mafia. I recently read an article on Crime Reads that 'family' with a small 'f'' was at the heart of the great Mafia stories like the Godfather and the Sopranos - that that sense of belonging and desire to protect family lifted them above other gangster movies /tv series and gave them something that everyone could relate to. The same is true here. Family lies at the heart of Sofia and Antonia's world - in fact, it's all encompassing; children are protected from knowledge of what their fathers parents actually do for a livelihood, and later boys are found a place within the business, girls expected to marry into the family. But this is a Mafia story with a difference - one told mainly from the perspective of the women who sit waiting and worrying when their husbands are later home than expected, or turn up with injuries and blood on their hands, but know that they won't receive honest answers if they ask where, why or who.
Spanning twenty or so years, from the 1920s to late '40s, it follows Sofia and Antonia from childhood as they grow into women, marry and have children of their own, and to an era when the Family's prohibition and war-time profitability is on the decline, and new money-making schemes are needed. I loved it for its characters, its scale, its writing style which drew me in and held me. I rather hope this isn't the end of the Family's story.
Currently available in the UK on Kindle, and in hardback from January 2022