LOVE CEMETERY by China Galland


Unburying the Secret History of Slaves
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A white writer who seems to have a wrenching epiphany on every page helps some black residents of east Texas clean up an abandoned, overgrown cemetery.

In The Bond Between Women (1998), Galland circled the globe to meet activists battling child prostitution, illiteracy, pollution and death squads. Here, she hangs around Texas to learn that racism is bad, that we all ought to get along and that Jesus is the way. It’s not a step forward in her work. She begins with a childhood memory of a spooky old house in her grandmother’s Dallas neighborhood, occupied by a weird white woman who once kept her Negro gardener prisoner in the attic. Galland says she learned then that in matters of race “the white narrative dominates and prevails and discredits and trivializes” other stories. Shifting to the east Texas countryside, she launches into the story of how she and some local black women went out to a cemetery named for the Love family (no one seemed to know who currently owned it), saw what a mess it was and decided to do something about it. The author started reading histories of Africa, the slave trade and Texas, doing interviews, conducting research in the county courthouse and historical society, arranging for videography. She attended the local Baptist church and found the congregation’s religious enthusiasm infectious, even revelatory. She helped round up volunteers to attack the wilderness reclaiming the cemetery. Throughout, Galland assumes readers know nothing about American racial history: She summarizes key moments in the civil-rights movement and tells us that during the Middle Passage “life in the ship’s hold was pure hell.” Though she says it’s dehumanizing to refer to people in slavery as “slaves,” her subtitle does just that. When she has a falling out with one of the black women working on the project, her self-flagellation and White Guilt reach epic proportions.

An overwrought, highly sentimental account of a worthy community service project.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-06-077931-4
Page count: 256pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2007