Brown's fiction (The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger, 1970; Days Without Weather, 1982) has starred uprooted black men in Copenhagen and southern California. Here, in a memoir of his own roots in North Carolina, the author employs a simple storytelling style in which, from the child's naive perspective, some formative events appear quite poignant. Young ``Morris'' (Brown's name for himself) is born during WW II and, with his brother, is raised by Aunt Amanda and Uncle Lofton because the boys' real father, Cuffy, is living in a ``house in the mountains''--actually, a Virginia prison--and their real mother can't be tied down. Amanda is the black rural version of 1950's motherly perfection: cooking, cleaning, washing, baking the best pies, and always in loving good humor--although a typical day for her also includes picking cotton all day for cash, coming home to sort tobacco leaves, and cooking at the white folks' club at night after feeding her own family. Railroad worker Lofton encourages the boys to do well in school and provides a role model, but Morris sometimes wants to be a bad man like his father, whom he imagines is as legendary as the Stagolee of song fame. When Cuffy's finally released from prison, he claims his sons and imposes a life of discipline, farming, no future, and no books--though Morris does enjoy plowing with the mule, and Cuffy will come through in a surprising way for his son before the story ends. A sometimes familiar odyssey--down south, there are railroads, racism, and revivals, while during a New York summer, Morris learns more about jazz, junkies, and white women--but particularized and engaging in the telling.