Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
Published by The Dial Press on April 5, 2022
Genres: Historical Fiction
Format: E-Book, eBook
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A spellbinding debut novel tracing three generations of a Southern Black family and one daughterâ€™s discovery that she has the power to change her familyâ€™s legacy.
In the summer of 1995, ten-year-old Joan, her mother, and her younger sister flee her fatherâ€™s violence, seeking refuge at her motherâ€™s ancestral home in Memphis. Half a century ago, Joanâ€™s grandfather built this majestic house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglassâ€”only to be lynched days after becoming the first Black detective in Memphis. This wasnâ€™t the first time violence altered the course of Joanâ€™s familyâ€™s trajectory, and she knows it wonâ€™t be the last. Longing to become an artist, Joan pours her rage and grief into sketching portraits of the women of North Memphisâ€”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 healingâ€”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, Memphisâ€”the Black fairy tale she always wanted to readâ€”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.
This was an enjoyable read. The writing was lyrical in places, and the acknowledgments section was possibly one of the most fun I’ve ever read. I was expecting this story to be more of an ode to the city of Memphis than it was, but I wasn’t disappointed in the multigenerational family saga I got instead. I only wish there had been more about Hazel’story. I found her to be a compelling character. The characters are realistic and well-drawn. This book should make a pretty good movie should anyone decide to turn it into one.