Minrose Gwin makes her first appearance here on the blog with an historic fiction story, told in two perspectives about the aftermath of the 1936 tornado in Tupelo, Mississippi. Please read on for my review of
Gwin tells the tale of the 1936 Tupelo tornado from two perspectives: Dovey, an African-American laundress and Jo, a young white girl and daughter of a Judge and schoolteacher. Simply surviving the storm when so many didn’t, then holding on to hope and determination to survive and find family and help become the skeleton of this tale – allowing readers in to lives and situations that feel plausible and probable, even as some of the underlying discrimination and unfairness persist. Working from actual accounts, guessing at numbers of affected (African Americans and their names and numbers weren’t counted), and managing to bring a story of intersected lives through proximity and abuse to life.
The devastation and shock from the two survivors when they see just how the landscape has changed: rain, hail, wind and mud, all concealed in darkness that hides other dangers, human and topographical. The unending scenes of death and featherless chickens, lack of potable water and food, dry clothing, and no shoes, we see the ‘make-do’ personal caretaking as Dovey continues to put one foot forward in her search for husband, granddaughter and great-grandbaby. As part of the government’s efforts to alleviate the depression, dispatches of relief arrive reasonably quickly: from medical staff and medicines to food, water, undertakers to care for the dead and the Red Cross: making lists of dead, survivors and proving intermediate and triage care for the citizens. And to be clear – the lists were of white citizens, even as the black citizens were provided minimal assistance as well. Through Dovey’s story we see a life of struggle and tumult: yet full of love of family- and her story unfolds with tragedies and emotion, tying us to her search and finding light in her simple belief that she will find her family alive and well. Through Jo’s story, we see a young woman who is fanciful and often unrealistic, unable to remember (and it feels more like she doesn’t see it as important) Dovey’s name, even as she demands, orders and lastly cajoles her to send someone back to help. More of Jo’s upbringing (and callous disregard – if recognized as a hateful thing later) show as she demands (often imperiously) action from others, black and white, action to care for her needs and that of the brother she found dangling in the bushes at the front of her house.
From horrific injuries, fears and the simple struggle to survive: the emotional intensity of the story never quite leaves, coming to a head when Jo with her little brother (much changed from the fractious and colicky child she’d known the past months) finally come face to face with Dovey, now in boxcar housing arranged by the Red Cross – and secrets and realities are revealed – in ways that only time could show if effects were long-lasting for Jo. Family secrets and shames unearthed, families of privilege brought low and unable to exhibit even the most basic of survival skills, and the ever-present separation between the races: in medical care, housing, basic necessities and even casual encounters on the street stand out shockingly: that such an unimportant affectation should be so integral to the society as to be adhered to in times when simple necessities become luxuries is a testament to the stupidity and ignorance that is integral in racism. Unfortunately, the systematic complicity of that racism extended to record-keeping by the government: historic accounts of this story are lily-white, and from the author’s notes, the settlements and people were relocated and or lost to recorded history.
The book is beautifully readable: both Jo and Dovey bring their families and lives to life in their recollections and memories, the three characters that are ever-present from the early chapters (Dovey, Jo and the baby) are clearly present in each word and scene. The horrific aftermath of a devastating storm, the strange focus on what is important at that moment, and the faith that Dovey caries like a sword in her search for her people is striking and heartfelt. A tale that feels so plausible and possible as to be a memoir from two survivors of the tornado: this needs to be a part of your upcoming reads.
Author: Minrose Gwin
Genre: African-American, Depression Era, Historical Fiction, Interracial, Southern
Published by: William Morrow
Published on: 27 February, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 10 Hours
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In the aftermath of a devastating tornado that rips through the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, at the height of the Great Depression, two women worlds apart—one black, one white; one a great-grandmother, the other a teenager—fight for their families’ survival in this lyrical and powerful novel
A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a massive funnel cloud flashing a giant fireball and roaring like a runaway train careened into the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people, not counting an unknown number of black citizens, one-third of Tupelo’s population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.
When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung by the terrifying winds into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family—her hardworking husband, Virgil, her clever sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Dreama, and Promise, Dreama’s beautiful light-skinned three-month-old son.
Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs’ dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she’s found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him.
During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them. Drawing on historical events, Minrose Gwin beautifully imagines natural and human destruction in the deep South of the 1930s through the experiences of two remarkable women whose lives are indelibly connected by forces beyond their control. A story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race, Promise reminds us of the transformative power and promise that come from confronting our most troubled relations with one another.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: