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Glorious (thoughts)

April 29, 2010

I first discovered Bernice McFadden a few months ago, when I read her debut novel Sugar. I loved it, so when I saw she was giving away ARCs of her latest novel on her blog, and that it included the Harlem Renaissance, you better believed I jumped for it! ;) It’s called Glorious, and it releases Saturday (the 1st of May) here in the States and in Canada (you Brits have to wait an extra month), so you won’t have to wait too long if I convince you to read it.

Glorious has a very different feel from Sugar. It’s much shorter, and it has a fable tone to it, with all that that implies. The characters rarely felt fully fleshed out to me, however the narrator’s voice was marvelous and spot-on. The story spans most of Easter Venetta Barlett’s life, so it necessarily has a bit of an episodic feel to it. But all of this works for the story, and I believe they were deliberate choices on McFadden’s part. It’s a solid, page-turning book that doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of race relations in the early 20th century. I very much recommend it, as long as you enjoy that novella, fable style. :)

I can tell when my brain is ‘on fibro,’ because suddenly I become very succinct! I loved a lot of things about Glorious, so now I’m going to try to gush for a bit until you get that. Here’s how the story opens, which is a perfect sample of the narrative style:

If Jack Johnson had let James Jeffries beat him on July 4, 1910, which would have proven once and for all that a white man was ten times better than a Negro, then black folk wouldn’t have been walking around with their backs straight and chests puffed out, smiling like Cheshire cats, upsetting good, God-fearing white folk who didn’t mind seeing their Negroes happy, but didn’t like seeing them proud.

Doesn’t that want to make you read more, even as you wince? And while I said earlier that the we don’t get to know many of the characters that well, there are definitely still a few who are incredibly memorable. There’s Rain, a large black woman touring as an exotic dancer sideshow, with all of the strength of personality that implies, and openly lesbian to boot. There’s Colin, who left his native Caribbean to make his fortune and ended up in NYC. And there are others, who come together to make up the supporting cast of Easter’s life.

Easter herself is marvelous. We follow her from her Southern roots to her involvement in the Harlem Renaissance as a writer and beyond…she’s definitely a flawed character who makes mistakes, but isn’t that what all of literature’s best characters are like? Who wants to read about perfection? One of the things I loved most about Easter is that she’s a total reader. :D Here’s a description of her courtship with Colin:

The two of them spent hours trolling through the stacks of books at the Aguilar Free Library on 110th and Third. Colin preferred hair-raising stories, while Easter fancied works that spoke less to the fantastic and more to the familiar-Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Scarlet Letter.


They’d take their books to Central Park, spread a blanket, and read to one another until the light vanished from the sky.

Doesn’t that sound like a perfect date?

I haven’t mentioned the setting yet! The bulk of the story occurs during the 20s, and it’s obvious McFadden has done her research. Harlem came alive for me, and I enjoyed spending time in it. Fortunately, she didn’t succumb to that trap historical fiction authors sometimes fall into where they start inserting things just to show off all the research they did. ;) That’s one of my pet peeves as a reader, so on the off chance it’s one of yours too, I thought I’d include that disclaimer!

So…to sum up, Glorious contains a fascinating setting, an addictive narrative tone, a main character who I truly cared about, and just enough ‘issues’ to make me wish I had a book group to discuss it with. What more does fiction need? I do wish, in my chunkster-selfishness, that the book had been a bit longer. But it doesn’t feel incomplete; rather, it’s like a small, self-contained gem of a novella. I can’t wait to read more of McFadden’s backlist, and I hope that she sets a future book in the same time period, since she’s so good at bringing it to life.

Have I convinced you that you want to read Glorious? I hope so! McFadden and her publisher are sponsoring a giveaway: there are two signed copes up for grabs to readers in the US, Canada, or UK. I haven’t done a giveaway on my blog in at least a year, if not more, so I’m sticking to my old-school ways. If you want to be entered, simply leave a comment on this post answering one question: Who is your favourite POC author? And what book of theirs would recommend as the best starting point? Ok, so that was more like two questions. Anyway, everyone who comments will be entered once, and while you are free to publicise the giveaway where ever you desire, there are no extra ‘points’ up for grabs. ;) I’ll leave the contest open for a week, then next Friday (May 7), I’ll draw two winners via the random number generator, and McFadden’s publisher (Akashic Books, a US indie publisher I strongly recommend checking out) will send the books their way.

Whew. My brain’s exhausted, so I’m off to curl up with Life on Mars, a TV on DVD series recommended to me by some reader, and that I’m very much enjoying. :)

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. winstonsdad permalink
    April 29, 2010 4:06 pm

    love the cover ,like the historic point of view ,it seems like this would be a great film ,all the best stu

  2. April 29, 2010 6:15 pm

    Okay, Eva, you’ve convinced me. Go ahead and enter me. And it’s late, I’ve had a glass of wine, so I’m just going to say that when I think of my favorite POC authors, the first one that comes to mind is Jhumpa Lahiri. And my favorite book of hers is The Namesake.

    Thanks!

  3. April 30, 2010 6:24 am

    Eva: 1. I’ve just finished Sugar (can you imagine) and I really liked it. I will review it soon. 2. you have convinced me re: Glorious 3. How can I pick one favorite POC writer? Hmm… I pick Nuruddin Farah and his book Maps is a good starting point.

  4. April 30, 2010 7:51 am

    I read about this on another blog the other day and thought it sounded wonderful! I am trying SO HARD not to acquire any more books before the end of the summer, so do not enter me, but I am going to read this soon! It sounds really good!

  5. April 30, 2010 7:57 am

    This book sounds so good! When you say POC does it have to be a native born American? If not, I would pick Edwidge Danticat with Breath, Eyes, Memory.

  6. April 30, 2010 8:18 am

    Zora Neale Hurston!! Her “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a masterpiece! I also love Richard Wright. Native Son. Go. :)

    Oh and Langston Hughes for his poetry!

  7. April 30, 2010 9:07 am

    I love Bernice McFadden’s work. It is hard to pick a favorite POC author, but every chance I get I recommend Tayari Jones’ The Untelling. Every chance I get. Bonnie Glover is also a pleasant recent discovery, I have read Going Down South twice.

  8. April 30, 2010 9:41 am

    Whenever I see “POC” I automatically think of black people only. I’m not sure I’m keen on this abbreviation. It’s funny, ’cause I also think “PC” when I see it which is kinda what it is yeah? I do remember you talking about it last year, but it does seem to reinforce anglo-authors as the default. I tend to use “non-English language author” which is very clunky. It’s just that there are plenty of POC authors who are English-speaking and write in English. There just seems to be this thing that the more we try to be inclusive, the more divisive we sound. But I get the intention. It just seems weird to say my favourite POC is Haruki Murakami, know what I mean?

    Ah dear, I actually just meant to answer your question.

    I loved The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and On Beauty by Zadie Smith. I’m trying to think of who else I love but I’m currently drawing a blank. I love Natsuo Kirino’s Out – on the strength of that I bought her other two books but I haven’t had a chance to read them. And of course Haruki Murakami – After Dark is a good one to start with. I’ll probably think of more later!

    • April 30, 2010 12:17 pm

      (Sorry, I don’t think my comment makes any sense, even to me … I’m feelign a bit dizzy today…)

  9. April 30, 2010 3:43 pm

    I LOVED this book too! Isn’t the writing awesome? I just couldn’t put the book down when I read it. It was an unstoppable desire to keep turning the pages.

  10. April 30, 2010 7:00 pm

    You’ve convinced me! This book sounds great.

  11. May 1, 2010 11:37 am

    You’ve convinced me! And as a bonus, I’ve added Sugar on my wishlist as well (I guess I wasn’t around yet to read your review of it). Don’t enter me btw, as I don’t live in any of those countries.

  12. May 1, 2010 6:02 pm

    Wow! This books sounds great. Definitely throw my name into the hat :)

    As far as POC authors – my favorite would have to be Sandra Cisneros – The House on Mango Street. I also love Denise Chavez – Loving Pedro Infante. And then there is Gloria Anzaldua – Borderlands. Oh and Lorraine Lopez – Soy la Avon Lady and other stories. Those are some of my favorites ( I couldn’t pick just one).

  13. May 2, 2010 5:48 pm

    My favorite writer (or one of my top favs) happens to be POC…Zadie Smith! A lot of people think that On Beauty is her best, and while it’s a great book, I still like her debut White Teeth the most.

    Thanks for holding this contest!

  14. May 3, 2010 7:04 am

    I’d love to be entered. As for favorite POC author, I have to say I love Toni Morrison. I’ve only read a few, but Beloved is seriously an all time great novel.

  15. Nena permalink
    May 5, 2010 5:41 am

    I would love to win a copy (I am assumming POC includes any author that is not of european descent?) My favorite POC author is Rohinton Mistry and my favorite book by him is a “A fine balance”

  16. May 6, 2010 5:10 am

    I don’t generally think about whether an author is a POC or a male or female or anything. So I’m at a bit of loss here…. hummm. is POC anyone not western European in origin? I’ll take Mishima — start perhaps with Spring Snow, or maybe The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, or maybe Confession of a Mask. I haven’t read Mishima in years and years. Would I still love him?

  17. May 13, 2010 11:43 pm

    Well you sold me. LOL! I just ordered a copy. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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