THOSE BONES ARE NOT MY CHILD by Toni Cade Bambara

THOSE BONES ARE NOT MY CHILD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The other side of Atlanta from Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full is explored in Bambara’s powerful last testament—the book she worked on for 12 years before her death in 1995. As before, Bambara (The Salt Eaters, 1980, etc.) tells a dramatic story that’s also an accusatory critique of the relegation of American blacks to second-class citizenship. The focus here is initially on Marzala (—Zala—) Spencer, a single mother who’s heroically raising three children, working three jobs, and attending night school; coping, somehow—until her 12-year-old Sundiata (—Sunny—) fails to come home from a camping trip. Zala’s frantic search for Sonny’seemingly another victim of Atlanta’s “child murders” in the early 1980s—rapidly introduces her to a world of violent crime and predatory sexuality, and to a parallel “murky world of disconnected information.” The search reunites her with her estranged husband Spence (a Vietnam vet, now a limo driver) and transforms the couple’s experience into an impressive anatomy of black and white—and black vs. white—Atlanta. Though the drama seldom flags, it must be admitted that Bambara frequently lectures the reader. Nevertheless, Zala and Spence (whose wounded, indignant psyches are analyzed with extraordinary intensity) are vibrantly real. And the climactic actions—including Zala’s meeting with a traumatized Sonny so changed she can—t be sure he’s her son (a scene that explains Bambara’s superb title); the judgment pronounced by her long-suffering “Mama Lovey” (—You so scarce in understanding, you think you can get past your own flesh and blood—); and a concluding (and very moving) sermon and response—carry a conviction that triumphantly raises the whole above its intermittent discursiveness and overstatement. Bambara’s uncompleted manuscript was edited for publication by Toni Morrison, whose Editor’s Note (not seen) will presumably clarify whether the author would have further refined the novel’s remaining rough edges. But it’s a masterwork in any case: as replete a revelation of urban black life as American fiction has seen.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-44261-8
Page count: 688pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999




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