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by Alex Haley & David Stevens

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-83471-5
Publisher: Scribner

Screenwriter Stevens (who completed the late Haley’s Queen, 1993) has now crafted from another incomplete Haley novel one of those heartwarming generational sagas—destined as a miniseries on CBS-TV in November—that relies on individuals as eyewitnesses to history. Too often, when characters are turned into representatives of the Zeitgeist, they dance to the music of time rather than to the promptings of the heart, and Mama Flora’s Family is no exception, but with one caveat: Mama Flora herself is as memorable a character as Root’s Kunta Kinte and Chicken George. The eldest daughter of poor black farmers in Mississippi, Flora is seduced by the son of a wealthy black plantation owner and has to give up her baby and leave the state as a result. A devout Christian, Flora settles in a small Tennessee town, where she is helped by the local preacher to find work. After a brief but loving marriage to Booker, who is murdered by the Klan, Flora is determined that their only son Willie will go to college. But Willie, unlike Ruthana (the niece Flora raises when her sister dies), is no student: He leaves school, but the Depression makes work hard to find, so he heads to Chicago. There, he becomes involved with drug dealers and black communists, then joins the army and fights heroically in the Pacific, only to return to find racial prejudice still entrenched. The times are changing, though, and Flora and her growing family respond in different ways. Some become Moslem, others join the Black Panthers, take drugs, or, like Ruthana, go to Africa. Even Flora does her part, by single-handedly desegregating the local cafÇ. At the reunion for her 80th birthday, the community and her family are all there to honor her. Not in the same class as Roots, but an affecting if superficial take on recent racial history. (Literary Guild alternate selection)