New and Notable: Family: A Novel
Family: A Novel
By J. California Cooper
New York: Anchor Books, 1992, c1991
From Professor Natasha Martin:
Some topics and problems are just too heavy to confront, let alone to solve. Thank goodness for writers like J. California Cooper. She weaves a story about slavery with grace, at times beauty, and remarkably, with little bitterness. It is a testament to the healing power of a gifted storyteller.
From the banks of the Nile to the bowels of the pre-Civil War American south, Family is a masterfully woven multi-generational story about brutality, survival, and resilience. It is also a powerful exhortation on the meaning of family, identity, and belonging. Narrated by Clora, it is the story of a black slave woman who takes her own life and attempts to take the lives of her children. No longer inhabiting the earth, Clora’s gaze is on her progeny as they navigate the horrors of slavery and move toward freedom. The reader accompanies Clora along her supernatural travels through time following the lives of her descendants as they endure the savagery of oppression. Family reflects the heart wrenching fervor and expanse of a mother’s love.
The power of this novel lies in the author’s ability to offer hope – a space to imagine, to resist devastation, and to affect change. I am deeply moved, for example, at the sheer courage of those who, faced with the horrors of slavery, managed to live, to love, and to find kinship in spite of physical, spiritual, and psychic torture. Love was often forbidden, excised through violence, fear, and domination. Yet, these characters transcend traditional familial boundaries and create community wherever they land. As an adoptive mom, this work resonates because it captures the essence of belonging – kinship is not about bloodline or place, but the shelter of love and the sanctuary of unconditional acceptance. This book reminds me that we are all connected.
Family is a cautionary tale about the chains that constrain our hearts and minds. We live in a world of immeasurable social and legal problems. Amid this complexity, lies a web of seemingly irreconcilable forces and contradictions. How do we more fully appreciate the dilemmas and remedy the suffering of the human condition? Perhaps the antidote is ‘deceptively simple’ – Love conquers all. We must use our heads and hearts to solve the world’s complex problems. As J. California Cooper writes towards the end of Family, “History don’t repeat itself, people repeat themselves! History couldn’t do it if you all didn’t make it.” She reminds us that the “future has a past.” So we have a choice – to love and to embrace our interconnectedness. This relational stance paves the way for justice to prevail.
From the Publisher:
In this wise, beguiling, beautiful novel set in the era of the Civil War, an award-winning playwright and author paints a haunting portrait of a woman named Always, born a slave, and four generations of her African-American family.
About the Author:
J. California Cooper is the author of several novels, including, most recently, Some People, Some Other Place, and six collections of stories. She was honored as Black Playwright of the Year, and has received the American Book Award, the James Baldwin Writing Award, and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association. She lives in California.