Language: English
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hutchinson 2013
ISBN: 9780091944186
Pages: 241
Price: INR 550

“Maybe we have only a finite amount of love to give. We’re born with our portion, and if we love and are not loved enough in return, it’s depleted.” twelvetribes

The year is 1923 and Hattie is simply 17 and pregnant. She, as a part of the great South migration, moves to Philadelphia in hopes of a better life, leaving behind the Jim Crow era. And what follows is the life of Hattie, as seen through the eyes of her nine children and one grandchild. This book is one of strength and resilience, anger and disappointment, poverty and pain.
The book follows the lives of nine children and one grandchild of Hattie, each getting a chapter to them. The book starts with the twins, Philadelphia and Jubilee (1925) and their subsequent death. Hence, this forms the twelve tribes of Hattie that the name suggests. Her husband, August is a good-for-nothing womanizing drunk and yet Hattie can’t resist him in the bedroom. And hence comes baby after baby, a total of eleven. Hattie brings up each child with no love, just anger, in a cramped little house with limited house. Hattie sees her great American dream crash before as she yearns for more and better, but is denied. In each chapter, we see how poverty, depression and mental illness affect each child.

“There are too many disappointments to name and too much heartbreak. They were beyond punishment or forgiveness, beyond what they had inflicted on each other, beyond love.”

The structure of the story is very different, with one chapter per child and none to be mentioned again. Hattie is the common feature of the story, that interlinks every chapter and with every chapter, we get a new look into her. In a way, this leads to a lack of connection between the chapter and often feels like you’re just reading individual stories. The writing style is fine and strong. Hattie’s anger especially is expressed exquisitely.
The book may not have a semblance of a story, but it does have an ending, as Hattie reflects,

“Here we are, sixty years out of Georgia, a new generation has been born, and there’s still the same wounding and the same pain.”

It takes more than a generation to erase pain and suffering.
This is a good book which makes for a fine read. But often it feels not like a full story, but nine chapters about twelve different people.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

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