Monday, February 6, 2012

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew

Set in the racially divided South of the 1950`s, this book was an amazing read both for the issues it covered and the depth and breadth of the writing. Its narrative voice is that of Jubie, a vibrant, engaging 13 year old who takes us into the heart of a family that isn`t quite what it appears to outsiders to be but which would equally typify many families living through these tumultuous times, an abundant life full of riches but entangled with lies, secrets and drink the family as what was referred to in those times as a Girl or a Domestic. An African American Woman who basically ran all aspects of the families home life and who more often than not nurtured the children in a manner that would not occur to the mother to do.
In this story her name is Mary and her life like many has not been easy, and yet for all the burdens placed on her, she never failed to met the needs of the family nor to do their bidding, the hours were long and the money average at best, little courtesy or kindness was shown and racism in every day life was rife even when it moved slightly under the radar. The children however tended to love their Girls and were often slow to recognise the price that these women paid simply living their lives.
And then a ill conceived holiday trip unravels the sparse fabric that makes up the Watts families lives, the deep divides of racism rears its head in its truth and murder,accidental death,suicide, and criminal and moral illicitness take the narrative down a twisting, turning path, joy and frivolity mixed with hatred and abuse. This is a  book where each of the characters is slowly revealed, each layer adding a new perspective, a new dimension. The more unseemly aspects of the novel in the hands of this writer never render it gloomy, in fact it is a book that you can`t put down because you want to know where it is going and what will happen next. The characters are true and real, their integrity or lack of never false or misleading, their motives easily identifiable and at the end hope still remains and not one character be they major or minor is unchanged.
I loved this book, its realness and magical words, its harshness and its characters simply came alive before my eyes, the portrait this author painted with words will not easily leave me.
Available in Soft Cover and through the Auckland Library System.

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