By Ayana Mathis
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95, 243 pages
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie opens with Hattie, seventeen in 1925, struggling to keep her sick twins alive. She is in a loveless marriage with a womanizer, August, that thought he could transition to being a “family man”. Each chapter focuses on one of Hattie’s nine living children and her one granddaughter. At the same time, each chapter is a different year in time progressing from 1925 to 1980. There’s a wide range of characters such as Floyd, a roving musician who wanders to avoid his silent sexual needs with men, Six, a supposed preacher at fifteen and Ruthie the love child of Hattie and Lawrence during a short-lived decision when Hattie tried to change her future, or at least her intolerable present circumstances.
“You act like your whole life was one long January afternoon,” Lawrence said. “The trees are always barren and there’s not a flower on the vine.”
Every chapter almost reads like its own separate short story with Hattie interweaving in each. Some of the passages in this book are awe-inspiring; they are so stunningly written. This is a novel about love, life, poverty and the African American experience in the mid 1900’s. Hattie’s “escape” from Georgia to big city life in Philadelphia did not make her life perfect but she dealt the hand she was given and showed her kids love the only way she knew how: by getting food on the table and clothes on their backs without the tenderness and affection they so craved. This is a beautifully written book that will mesmerize you from the very first page.
Reviewed By Seniye Groff