Two men from the South—one white and one black—forge a friendship that challenges their notions about race.
When only 10, James Walker witnesses his cousin’s lynching by Klansmen, a gruesome spectacle that shakes him to the core. The Rev. Jones, his Baptist minister, consoles and inspires him to use education as a means to transcend the racial prejudice he will surely experience. James moves to Savannah, Georgia, to live with his Aunt Violet, a schoolteacher, who helps him achieve academic excellence and attend Morehouse College. After graduating cum laude, he enters the United States Air Force Officer Training Program. He continually encounters poisonous discrimination but responds with nonviolent protest. Meanwhile, Tom Stirling grows up on a peanut plantation in Georgia under the influence of omnipresent white supremacist views. Tom also enters the Air Force Officer Training Program and, en route to Biloxi, Mississippi, meets James—the first meeting between the two is an inauspicious one. But Tom eventually develops a deep respect for James’ intelligence, and an authentic friendship blossoms after James helps Tom recover from a debilitating injury while on tour in Vietnam. Debut author Kelsey slowly uncoils the protagonists’ moral revelations—both men are saddled with powerful, emotional reasons to be distrustful of the other. The author adroitly depicts the paradoxes of Southern culture—genteel civility and educational refinement pitted against brutal violence and blinkered racial prejudice. Kelsey’s writing is unfailingly clear, but he can slide into didacticism. Also, the dialogue can be bloodlessly earnest. Consider Tom’s unspoken self-reflection after he’s dumped by a girlfriend: “I can’t believe what just happened. We were so close. We needed each other. I know I fell for her, but maybe I was only fooling myself thinking she loved me.”
A well-crafted though sometimes sententious account of racial conflict.