FAMILY by J. California Cooper


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Cooper's first novel, about an African-American family in and out of slavery, shares the strengths and weaknesses of her story collections (A Piece of Mine, 1984; Homemade Love, 1986; Some Soul to Keep, 1987): the charm of her direct, colloquial voice usually outweighs the predictability of events and sentiments. Narrator Chlora suffers the slavery horror of bearing children for the white master and seeing them hated by the jealous mistress, sold away or, in their turn, raped. Like her mother and grandmother, Chlora commits suicide, poisoning herself and her four remaining children who, however, survive. Chlora's spirit begs God to let her stay to watch over them. "God didn't say nothin' to me. . .The devil didn't say nothin' either, thank God," but Chlora's consciousness remains on earth and observes her children as they struggle for love, education, dignity, and freedom. Daughter Always builds up her master's plantation and contrives to switch her light-skinned baby with that of her new mistress; son Sun escapes north with the help of his half-sister, the Master's legitimate daughter; Peach is bought by a Scotsman, who takes her back to Europe and marries her; baby Plum meets a gruesome death trying to stay with Always, who's been sold. By the end, Chlora realizes her blood flows in people of different races and nations and concludes that family is the human family ("God said so!"). Simple and direct as a folk tale: an undeveloped but engaging read.

ISBN: 385-41171-5
Publisher: Doubleday
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