Glorious, Bernice L. McFadden, Akashic Books, 2010
Glorious opens with a powerful prologue, a series of "what ifs" beginning with boxer Jack Johnson's fight against James Jeffries in 1910. What if he had lost? Everything would be different. But he won, and, like dominoes knocking each other down, a chain of consequences is set in motion for Easter Bartlett, a young African-American woman living in Waycross, Georgia during the era of Jim Crow. She flees her family home in search of a better life.
Easter passes through several towns, experiencing racism, extreme violence, and hardship along the way. Easter eventually arrives in Harlem, finds a job, falls in love, marries, and becomes a successful young writer of the Harlem Renaissance. Life is relatively good, but even in Harlem she cannot escape heartache, competition, jealousy, and betrayal. I do not want to divulge too much of the plot, but Easter discovers that despite the relative freedom and thriving literary culture of Harlem, justice is not necessarily more easily come by.
McFadden's descriptions are sometimes wrenching, sometimes heartwarming, sometimes gritty, but always evoke emotion. One of my favorite sentences came early in the novel, as Easter leaves Waycross with an unforeseeable future ahead of her: "Sixty three miles of road streamed out before her like a black snake." McFadden gives real life to passionate, determined young Easter (and later, a weary Easter), capturing the depths of her feelings. Toward the end of the novel Easter, exhausted, reacts to the oppression of prejudice: "And there it was again, crammed into that small room, sucking out all of the air."
Glorious is an ambitious novel, telling a lifetime's worth of stories across different times and locations; it covers a lot of ground quickly, and as a result I sometimes found the transitions were a bit fast. But it is a very engaging read and moves along briskly, and by the end I was flipping the pages as quickly as I could in the hope of our heroine finding justice. I will leave it to you to discover what happens.
Finally, congratulations to author Bernice L. McFadden, whom we have just learned has been nominated for an NAACP image award!
I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that Akashic Books is an independent publisher in New York, making Glorious my Indie Challenge Read #2