In the first of twelve chapters, it’s 1925 and we meet a young black girl of fifteen named Hattie. Hattie left the state of Georgia for what she dreams is a better life in Philadelphia married to a man named August. Each chapter is named for one or more of Hattie’s children. In the first chapter, Philadelphia and Jubilee, we come face to face with the desperation of a young mother who looses her twin babies to pnemonia simply because she didn’t have enough money for medicine.
Although I feel like I have everything to say about this book, I’ll take a note from the authors book and restrain myself. One thing I will say is that I can’t stop thinking about this book, this woman, her children and what she represents. Just how much the tragedy of loosing her babies and the effect it has on Hattie becomes known to us over time. Even the regret she feels for marrying a man who’s good for nothing but they continue to live in a cycle of frustration and eventually, acceptance, is not revealed first hand from Hattie herself, but through the chapters of her children and their relationship with their mother.
“Maybe we have only a finite amount of love to give. We’re born with our portion, and if we love and are not loved enough in return, it’s depleted.”
This is one of many quotes that resonated with me because as I grow older, I realize too, there are many things I finally understand about my own mother, now. Yet, there are other facets of her life that will remain a mystery. The sacrifices of parents, particularly a mother, who has made numerous sacrifices for the sake of her children, can be so engrossing, to a point it may seem and feel that her interactions with her children could seem harsh. But with so many mouths to feed, providing the necessities becomes Hattie’s focus.
“Somebody always wants something from me,” she said in a near whisper. “They’re eating me alive.”
Hattie wanted her kids to be prepared for the harsh, uncoddled life that awaited e in the world they would soon face beyond their childhood homes. Hattie could be seen as a pessimist but her experience shaped her into a realist. It’s not until we grow up, we mature a bit, when we realize that our parents have desires not much different from our own.
“She’d never seen her mother laugh that way. She’d never seen any joy in her at all. Hattie had been stern and angry all of Bell’s life, and it occurred to her that her mother must have been very unhappy most of the time. She wanted to know her mother as she was in that moment, so beautiful and happy that the bright afternoon paled in comparison.”
Some might find the structure of this book a bit complicated because they can’t connect with Hattie. But if her own family, her children, found it a challenge to do so, why would Hattie allow you, me, a stranger to do so? The moments of understanding are there: Hattie’s heartbreak, hurt, her sacrifice, her longing, her desire to be happy. It’s in there. I can understand it because there are parts of us that we keep to ourselves, some of those same things.
Have you read this book? If so, what did you think?