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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bleak portrayal of a black American family
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...
Published 23 months ago by K. Wright

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disjointed and uneven.
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...
Published on 13 Feb. 2013 by Charliecat


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disjointed and uneven., 13 Feb. 2013
By 
Charliecat (Oxfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Hardcover)
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars A bleak portrayal of a black American family, 6 May 2013
By 
K. Wright - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Hardcover)
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncompromising portrayal of life in USA, 19 April 2013
This review is from: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Hardcover)
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich and vibrant first novel, 6 Feb. 2013
By 
Sukie (South Coast) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Hardcover)
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars An Impressive Debut, 3 Feb. 2013
By 
Lovely Treez (Belfast, N Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Hardcover)
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love Hattie and her story. Don't love the format of the book., 24 Feb. 2013
By 
JK "J. K." (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Hardcover)
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'The Twelve Tribes of Hattie' lifts the lid on the social history of the US during the 1920s and the times of the 'Great Migration'. A period of history in which huge numbers of African-American people moved out of the rural South and migrated to the Northeast, Midwest, etc., looking for a better standard of living. We meet up with Hattie Shepherd when, at just 17, she has migrated from Georgia to Philadelphia.

At 17 Hattie has already lost twins, Philadephia and Jubilee, but goes on to give birth to nine surviving children and, much further on in the book, is presented with a granddaughter and those twelve children represent the '12 Tribes' mentioned in the title. The book follows Hattie and her 'tribes' through a entire series of heartbreaking situations as they battle through prejudice, social injustice and poverty. This is Hattie's tale. A tale of motherhood, the power of maternal love and the ability of the strong to survive.

I loved Hattie and that helped me forgive the poor way in which the book's presented. It's a mishmash of short, choppy entries about Hattie's children in no particular sequence. What a shame. The odd format moves around so much, so briefly, you don't get to know the children and it's all somewhat confusing. I'm willing to forgive the editorial gaff in view of the wonderful story running through the heart of the book but; it's enough of a distraction I couldn't give more than 4*.

Needs an edit.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting first novel, 19 May 2013
By 
J. Charlesworth (Lewes, E. Sussex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Hardcover)
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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is an ambitious first novel. Through the voices of Hattie Shepherd and her family (the twelve tribes of the title consist of nine surviving children and one grandchild), a black woman who has migrated from Georgia to Philadelphia, Ayana Mathis sketches the diversity of African-American experience, in a set of linked stories.

Yes, it is bleak and unremitting. Within the first few pages the reader is uncomfortably aware of Hattie's dawning realistion that the man she has married -and, in fact, life in the North- is not all she has been led to believe it is. Some of the allegories feel a little obvious - Hattie's ill-fated twins are named Philadelphia and Jubilee, and clearly represent her dreams of starting a new life away from the poverty and racism of the South and the breadth of experiences of Hattie's family is such that it feels like Mathis has created characters to explore specific themes, but the stories are carried along by Mathis's evocative prose and the common struggle of women trying to preserve their dignity and sense of family.

While The Twelve Tribes of Hattie covers similar ground to writers like Toni Morrison, Mathis has created a memorable voice in her central character of Hattie and is definitely a writer to watch out for.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful family history, 21 Nov. 2013
By 
Marand - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Hardcover)
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The book tells the story of Hattie and her large family over a period of more than fifty years and across three generations. Hattie's life has been tough, fleeing Georgia for Philadelphia after the murder of her father, a mother and wife by the age of seventeen, nine children in all. In some ways the book is bleak, showing the destructive effects of poverty, drugs, alcoholism, etc. but among it are descriptions of some of Hattie's children who have transcended their background, although whether they are much happier is open to doubt.

I have seen reviews which complain that the book is disjointed: I didn't feel this at all but found that the structure conveyed well the inter-woven stories of the family and indeed black history over a long period. I also think it allowed us to see how the characters changed over time, and to see people from different perspectives (each chapter is written from the viewpoint of a different member of the family).

I thought the book was beautifully written - rich language but not overdone. The first chapter in particular is a powerful piece of writing.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars oprah winfery can always be relied upon, 3 Feb. 2013
This review is from: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Hardcover)
Oprah told me to read this, actually oprah told me a while ago but this first novel by ayana mathis hadn't been released here so I waited. And I waited. And then I waited a little more until the happy moment I spotted it in waterstones last Saturday. Alas the wait still was not over as I hadn't finished crime and punishment but eventually I did. I hurtled through this book. I couldn't read it quick enough, I'd come in from work throw my stuff down, feed the guinea pig thelma and then sit enraptured on my sofa with this for hours.
So was the wait worth it? Absolutely. This book is about Hattie, a woman originally from Georgia who moves to north Philadelphia as a teenager. It is her story told via the lives of her children, all eleven of them. Each chapter deals with one or in some cases two of them and from the adults they become and the references about their mother we learn all about Hattie. It doesn't sound that exciting and I suppose it isn't exciting but it's something better than that. If a book could ever break your heart there's chapters in this that completely do, a lot of it is terribly sad but kind of hopefully at the same time.
It's by no means a long book but the amount of subjects it deals with is quite incredible, there's death, madness, homosexuality, suicide, alcoholism, racism, poverty, adultery and even though mathis might only write about them through her characters for a couple of pages it never feels like she's skimping or throwing them in for the sake of it, she writes so clearly you understand everything about these topics grasp on the characters, its really pretty powerful stuff.
This book kind of gets right to the core of you, it did me anyway and you don't come across writing this good often. I hope I come across another book as good as this one but it'll take some doing. People always say in reviews 'if you read one book this year make it this one' but I genuinely mean it this is a top read, it's my new favourite.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible characters in a moving and absorbing plot, 24 Jan. 2013
I was vey excited to read 'Hattie' following its heralding in the press as a 'cult book for 2013', and I was not disappointed.

The novel opens with Hattie as a young woman nursing her baby twins who are sick with fever. The tragedy that Hattie experiences is experienced by the reader and the novel unfolds with each chapter dedicated to each of Hattie's children born after her ill-fated twins. The novel is a rich tapestry of black American history, in the aftermath of their journey from the Jim Crow South to Philadelphia, bringing with them a culture of family, rootlessness, religion, love, sex, fried chicken, and lots of babies.

You learn to love each of the children of Hattie despite their many faults and damaged ways, and the way in which none of the characters love themselves, and battle with vices and their deprived childhoods. Some find God, some find money, some find love, albeit fleetingly, but the family remains disparate as through the years they are unable to forgive and find each other. Each of the senses are embraced in 'Hattie', with sights, smells, appearances, scenes described in beautiful language.

You will enjoy this novel if you like the works of Toni Morrison.
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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (Hardcover - 17 Jan. 2013)
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