Thursday, August 07, 2008

Review: The Glory Fields

by Walter Dean Myers. Scholastic, 1994. Library paperback. This is a family saga telling the story of the Lewis family in South Carolina, Chicago and Harlem from 1753 to the 1970s. The first section starts out with the story of eleven year old Muhammad Bilal off the coast of Sierra Leone, West Africa, when he is captured by slavers and brought across the sea to the Caribbean. The story skips ahead to his granddaughter's life on Curry Island, South Carolina, during the Civil War in the second section. The format continues from here, skipping generations in this African American family, but always moving forward. There is a family tree highlighting the players of each section on the opening pages.

Here's a section of The Glory Field from Lizzy's life, in 1864:
"What should I do?" Lizzy looked around as the soldiers and wagons started moving out. "What am I going to do?"

"Girl, you can go on with some folks who gonna try to make it North," a woman said. "Or you can stay with the soldiers and help them do what they want. They always need somebody to cook and mend."

Lizzy looked to where the black soldiers had gone down a road, seeing them turn and disappear around a bend. She couldn't see around the bend, or know what she was going to find when she got around it, but she knew she had to find out.

She ran as fast as she could, her feet slapping against the hard road. When she got around the bend, the men were still in sight, tall and proud. She followed them, never looking back."

This is my favorite kind of historical fiction, one that follows one family through all the generations, showing their hopes and fears, challenges and dreams. I am always fascinated to see how things are carried through the family and what each age passes on to the next. Myers does an admirable job of including historic events and showing how each one effects individual lives and families. I come away from this book with a deeper knowledge of how slavery is embedded in our history, a greater respect for the strength and power of families, and wishing my African American adopted sons knew the full history and depth of the entire range of their families, including all of their birth families.

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