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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie Hardcover – 17 Jan 2013


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson (17 Jan. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009194418X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091944186
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 2.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 393,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"The opening pages of Ayana’s debut took my breath away. I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison." (Oprah Winfrey)

"Mathis traces the fates of Hattie’s 12 children and grandchildren over the course of the 20th century, simultaneously capturing the voices and daily minutiae of every one of her characters. The understated assurance with which the 39-year-old pulls off this trick – a complex and engrossing work that has huge commercial hit written all over it – is remarkable." (Sunday Times)

"This fresh, powerful first novel turns the lives of Hattie’s children into an epic of America in the 20th century. Tough, truthful, wonderfully controlled writing." (Kate Saunders The Times)

"Ms. Mathis has a gift for imbuing her characters’ stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison’s writing, and her sense of time and place and family will remind some of Louise Erdrich, but her elastic voice is thoroughly her own — both lyrical and unsparing, meditative and visceral, and capable of giving the reader nearly complete access to her characters’ minds and hearts." (Michiko Kakutani New York Times)

"A vibrant and compassionate portrait of a family hardened and scattered by circumstance and yet deeply a family. Its language is elegant in its purity and rigor. The characters are full of life, mingled thing that it is, and dignified by the writer’s judicious tenderness towards them. This first novel is a work of rare maturity.'" (Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of GILEAD and Orange Prize-winner of HOME)

Book Description

‘The opening pages of Ayana’s debut took my breath away. I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.’ Oprah Winfrey

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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Charliecat on 13 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ayana Mathis' debut novel has been chosen as an Oprah Winfrey bookclub choice in the US and has garnered huge praise and rave reviews.
It tells the story of one family over several generations. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different member of the family starting with Hattie herself and moving through Hattie's children and finally one of her grandchildren.

Hattie becomes part of the Great Migration, when six million black Americans escaped the horrors of the South for the freedom of the cities in the North and West. Hattie moves her family from Georgia to Philadelphia and life is tough for them. Plagued by poverty, hardship and deprivation the family struggles to pull through and Hattie makes a great effort to keep her children on the straight and narrow.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is ambitious in its scope and its time span but the disjointed narrative style does serve to confuse the reader at times and breaks up the continuity of the story. Each chapter is like a short story in its own right, all linked by Hattie. The first chapter where we concentrate on Hattie is brilliant and heartbreaking but after that I lost interest. None of the other characters are as interesting as Hattie and none of the other stories are as powerful as that first one although the chapter called Ella towards the middle of the book is quite affecting.

There are so many powerful themes packed into this novel: homosexuality, race, poverty, crime, and illness that sometimes it feels like Mathis' has taken on too much and is trying to force too much into the novel.
Ayana Mathis is certainly an author to watch because there is some beautiful writing and some truly standout moments in Twelve Tribes of Hattie but the novel lacks coherence and the powerful writing of that first chapter is sadly not sustained all the way through.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By K. Wright VINE VOICE on 6 May 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ayana Mathis' debut novel is an ambitious work which seeks to tell the stories of Hattie and her family including her eleven children and a grandchild. The storytelling of the characters, settings and circumstances whilst very well written, to me read more like separate short stories for each character than of a complete novel. As I read each character's chapter I was drawn in to the encounters at poignant moments in each of their lives, however as there were so many characters I found it difficult to remember someone by name when they hadn't been referred to for a hundred pages. The last couple of chapters tried to make more connections but I still maintain that it reads better as a collection of short stories, especially as so many difficult subjects are tackled, albeit sensitively.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Max on 19 April 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Although The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is described as a novel, its really a collection of loosely connected short stories. Each of the stories is about one or more of Hattie's children or grandchildren and, whilst each story gives us a picture of that person, they each combine to build a complex character portrayal of Hattie herself.

For what it is, then, the book is excellent. It is uncompromising in its portrayal of the experiences of an African American family growing up in mid 20th century USA, and in the frailties of each of the characters within that family. Some of the chapters or short stories are quite moving and hard to read. A minority, for me, were a little disjointed or repeating themes from previous chapters, but these are minor quibbles.

This isn't a narrative novel - don't buy it for that. But it contains some of the most effective character development I've read in a long time, and has an honesty about life for a certain segment of the USA that is moving and valuable to read.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Sukie VINE VOICE on 6 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie follows the fortunes of Hattie Shepherd and her family, spanning over fifty years. Each chapter is a linked short story featuring first Hattie, then focussing on individual children, with the final story coming from a grandchild's point of view.
Hattie leaves Georgia for Philadelphia in the 1920s, and life is hard. She is a wife and mother by the age of 17, money is scarce, food is limited and laughter is hard to come by. Throughout the book, themes of poverty, betrayal and difficult decisions reoccur, and the overall impression is a bleak one. The first chapter in particular packs an incredible punch.
Mathis writes beautiful, subtle prose but I did find the novel disjointed and would have liked a more coherent thread to run through, tying the stories together in a stronger narrative arc. With tales of alcoholism, racism, gambling, mental health problems etc, the stories are all pretty depressing too, and after a while, I felt ground down by the unremitting bleakness.
This is a well-written book, capturing snapshots of different lives played out against a changing social background. As fine a work as it is, I wouldn't hurry to read it again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lovely Treez TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 3 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding The Twelve Tribes of Hattie as it is one of Oprah's Book Club Picks and destined to be a bestseller as a result. So is the hype justified?

Hattie Shepherd is part of the Great Migration, moving from Georgia to Philadelphia in the mid 1920s, hoping for a new start in life. Aged just 17, the story of her new life begins with the tragic death of her twin babies, Philadelphia and Jubilee who had ironically been given "names of promise and hope, reaching-forward names, not looking-back ones". Surely she has already had her share of tragedy but no, there is a lot more to follow as she gives birth to nine more children whose lives are equally imbued with sadness and it is these eleven off-spring plus one grand-daughter further down the line who comprise her "twelve tribes".

There is much to weep about - a womanising preacher, marital difficulties, tuberculosis, gambling, confused sexual identity, mental illness...a diversity of dysfunctionality. In order to survive the harsh reality of her life, Hattie hardens her heart and gives the impression of having no love for her off-spring but you just know she would be there for them in their hour of need. Indeed this is more a story about motherhood than the Great Migration.

There are so many characters and the novel's structure, almost a series of short stories/vignettes about Hattie's children, unfortunately prevents a really deep understanding of characters and their motivation. Having said that, it is beautifully written and a very impressive debut novel.
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