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on 20 September 2006
This novel tells the story of three generations of a poor black farming family living in Georgia, USA, in the early to mid twentieth century. Although slavery has long been abolished the Copeland family are far from being free. They are kept in abject poverty by the white landowner, working for next to no pay and kept in broken down farm 'houses' that would not be fit for animals. The landowners pass the family amongst their relatives to work on their farms, as some would do with farm machinery, and feel they are doing the Copelands a favour by "keeping them in the family".

This is a harrowing story that set my emotions on a roller coaster ride. I went from sorrow, to anger, to frustration and horror. The men dominate the women and take all their frustrations out on their family to compensate for their feeling inferior and subservient to the white landowners. There were times I felt elated, thinking the family were finally going to break free of their cruel life (for example when Mem finally had enough of Brownfields beatings and threatened him with a gun) but the mindset and attitude of the people at this time sucked them right back in to the viscous, violent cycle.

This is not an easy story to read; it is written with an honesty that is raw and hurting, but this is a book that is very thought provoking and will stay in your mind forever.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 December 2012
Three generations of a poor black family living in Georgia, USA, in the first half of the 20th century are at the heart of this remarkable novel. The menfolk, little more than slaves of racist masters, take out their frustration by treating their womenfolk and children violently. Escape to the North is no consolation because the same racist attitudes apply there, even if they are shown differently.

Attempts by successive generations of both genders to break out of their situations are failures, role models are absent and the cycles of desperation, drink and violence continue. We are used to reading fiction and watching media reports of inter-racial violence during this particular period in America, but this book is different in that the violence highlighted is that of black against black.

This is a challenging book to read in the 21st century and so one can only imagine the effect that it must have produced when first published in 1970, the first of Alice Walker's novels. Equally difficult to imagine is the effect that writing this novel must have had on the author since she would have known how it would be received by many of her community who wished to keep the truth of the lives and actions portrayed hidden in order to maximise the contrast between the downtrodden African-Americans and the racist whites. In an Afterword, the author describes the way in which the novel was written and the direct personal experiences that she incorporated.

As generation succeeds generation, cycles of violence and destruction repeat themselves in a way that suggests that these are the norm. The reader is shocked when there is a hint of a character trying to dispose of his "manliness" and seeking to behave in a manner that their society, in public, expects; the same is true when some of the women characters try to throw off their chains of victimisation. Just when it seems as if there might be an ending holding out the possibility of hope, certainly not a happy ending, the cycle turns once more and more violence ensues. Our hopes for the future lie in the hands of a young girl, Ruth, who has already been betrayed by "justice", but there seems little possibility that her life will be much different to those of her grandmother's or her mother's generation.

And yet we now read this story from the perspective of a world with an African-American President in the White House. Are we really so far removed from the final scenes of this novel?

The multiple aspects of "manliness" on which this book is centred remain as confused as ever and, today, are mouthed by rappers who may or may not believe what they say. Manliness can be a way of deflecting attention from one's internal and external fears, and one of the central characters sees it as devotion to wife and family and a commitment to fulfilling one's family responsibilities despite their oppression by racists. But these same racists control institutions and act, in a manner totally without responsibility, to prevent African-Americans from gaining power or privilege. Therefore, no matter how responsible African-Americans themselves are within their own families and communities, their access to wealth and hope will be controlled by others and restricted.

This is a magnificent, thought-provoking but very difficult book to read and understand because we would all prefer just to be readers and to see the violence elsewhere, anywhere but in our own communities. Alice Walker drags us from this comfortable position and forces us to consider our own responsibilities.
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on 7 December 2015
bought this for a friend as I had read it many, many years ago and it absolutely flawed me. It is Alice Walker's first novel that not many people are aware of but it is an extraordinary read, quite devastating at times but redeeming. A must read
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on 4 September 2013
Interesting and insightful, sometimes poetic, often challenging. Stick with it though- its worth reading through til the end. Here after word also provided a great insight.
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on 22 July 2014
An excellent book, gives a clear insight into the life of black people in the USA. Not an easy read but will definitely re-read this sometime in the future.
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on 3 September 2014
beautifully crafted story of one man's fall from Grace in his family and community and his eventual redemption through love.
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I enjoyed this book. Written in true Alice Walker fashion. You can really relate and feel for the characters. Good book
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on 25 January 2015
It was a brilliant first novel for Alice Walker.
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on 16 April 2001
This book speaks about abuse of black women by black men. Unable to stand up to the whites, black men abuse their wives and children in order to compensate for the loss of self esteem they suffer in dealing with the whites.
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