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Brown Girl, Brownstones Paperback – January 1, 1996

4.1 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


First novel by Paule Marshall, originally published in 1959. Somewhat autobiographical, this groundbreaking work describes the coming of age of Selina Boyce, a Caribbean-American girl in New York City in the mid-20th century. Although the book did not gain widespread recognition until it was reprinted in 1981, it was initially noted for its expressive dialogue. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

From the Back Cover

"An unforgettable novel, written with pride and anger, with rebellion and tears."—Herald Tribune Book Review
"Passionate, compelling . . . an impressive accomplishment."—Saturday Review
"Remarkable for its courage, its color, and its natural control."—The New Yorker
Selina's mother wants to stay in Brooklyn and earn enough money to buy a brownstone row house, but her father dreams only of returning to his island home. Torn between a romantic nostalgia for the past and a driving ambition for the future, Selina also faces the everyday burdens of poverty and racism.
Written by and about an African-American woman, this coming-of-age story unfolds during the Depression and World War II. Its setting—a close-knit community of immigrants from Barbados—is drawn from the author's own experience, as are the lilting accents and vivid idioms of the characters' speech. Paule Marshall's 1959 novel was among the first to portray the inner life of a young female African-American, as well as depicting the cross-cultural conflict between West Indians and American blacks. It remains a vibrant, compelling tale of self-discovery.
Dover (2009) unabridged republication of the edition published by Random House, Inc., New York, 1959.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: The Feminist Press at CUNY; 1st Feminist Press Ed edition (January 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558611495
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558611498
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,198,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a worthy and ambitious debut novel about the Barbadian immigrant experience in Brooklyn, New York, by a little known African-American author, whose own parents emigrated from Barbados during World War I. The author herself grew up in Brooklyn. She attended Brooklyn College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1953, a time when most Americans, much less a black woman, did not attend college. This drive to succeed is a testament to her Barbadian heritage.

It is from that heritage that the author drew in creating her characters and developing their rich mix of personalities, as she re-created the early Barbadian immigrant experience in post-depression era Brooklyn. The book focuses on the Boyces, a nuclear family consisting of Silla, the ambitious, hard working, ever striving mother, Deighton, her charming, pie-in-the-sky dreamer of a husband, and their two daughters, Ina, the older and more passive one, and Selina, the bright, rebellious one. The novel follows the fortunes of the Boyce family from the late 1930s until shortly after Word War II. It tells of their lives, their hopes, and their dreams.

The book beautifully details the experience of the early Barbadian immigrants in Brooklyn and their adjustment to their new environment. They brought with them their own ideas, their own ways of doing things, and a work ethic that is hard to beat. Quite frankly, Barbadians revitalized areas of Brooklyn that were dormant. Theirs was an almost traditional immigrant experience, but for the racism that they were to encounter here. Still, they did not allow that to stand in their way from getting ahead and going for the American dream.

This book neatly encapsulates that immigrant experience through the Boyce family.
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Format: Paperback
To all of the misguided souls who slammed this beautiful book, I feel sorry for you. Brown girl, Brownstones is a wonderful book for so many reasons but too many to go into now. Paule Marshall's piece is unique in that it gives a voice to a community so often left out of fiction writing: the Caribbean community in the United States. As a first generation Caribbean-American who grew up in Brooklyn, I was blown away the first time I read this book and found such startlingly familiar portrayals of the culture I claim. The dialogue flowed naturally and, although the chracter portrayals of some (esp. Deighton and Silla) might strike some as too extreme, my own experiences and even the testimony of sociological studies show that Marshall was right on the mark. The fact that the book didn't have a bang up ending is totally natural in that the book is a coming of age story of a young woman (how many people have a conclusive grip on who they are at 18) who must figure out her multipe identities as a young woman, a Black woman and and Afro-Caribbean woman not tied to her parents' homeland but not completely of this country either. Marshall's work is too poignant to be dismissed at first glance. I would encourage all those who couldn't find the beauty in Brownstones the first time to give it a second chance. To dismiss this book is not only dismissing the premiere work of Paule Marshall but also to miss out a rare glimpse into the dynamics of a community that is within our gates.
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Format: Paperback
This book deals with an aspect of the African American experience which gets very little notice outside of the black community, namely that of the black immigrant. We hear a lot about immigrants from Europe who came here and helped build america. However, immigrants also came here from places like Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, Panama, etc. Most whites will identify themselves as irish, polish, italian, german, etc ancestry. However, African Americans seem to be allowed only one ethnicity. It's as if in the darkness only one variation can be discerned. Like most immigrants, the Barbadians described in this book are highly motivated towards material success for themselves and their children. As seen in this book, sometimes this quest occurs at all costs even at the expense of outward expressions of love and affection. For example, Silla is referred to as 'the mother' throughout. As in many families, the ambitions of the parents for their children don't coincide with the children's as seen in the conflicts between Selena and her mother. Unlike white immigrants, their ambitions also run afoul of racism.
I found the narrative sometimes overly descriptive, especially in the preoccupation with sunlight and shadow. The brownstones and the streets often seemed like dark and brooding places.
My maternal grandparents were from Bardados, while my paternal grandfather was from St. Eustacia. I also grew up in Brooklyn (in a brownstone). Therefore, the landscape and the characters were very familiar. In fact, Claremont Sealy and Clive Springer are probably my cousins! A most enjoyable and thought provoking book. I look forward to reading more of Ms Marshall's book.
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Format: Paperback
i'm horrified at these reviews. marshall has put together a brilliant novel rich in prose and dialogue, an amazing work overall that should earn her the right to be identified with among the most important writers in the last half century. its funny how so much of our society is dumbed down to the point that a work of art is trashed because either people cant relate to it or dont grasp or understand it. if they dont understand words that the writer uses, they call that writer 'pretentious'. if the writer uses the language to its fullest capacity, they call the writer 'overly descriptive'. its quite a grim state of affairs when only these kind of comments prevail for such a transcendent novel. in today's lazy Western world of drive-thrus, TV dinners, and condensed 30 minute television shows with commercial breaks, people only want things easy, straight to the point. this is why our society is calcified.

if you dont understand what Marshall is doing here, either take your loss silently and move on, or, better yet, research! read more! try and understand lyricism and poetics, the beauty of creatively accurate description. that's just the thing; we're so a-creative these days its opprobrious. to the self-professed white jewish girl in the suburbs who will probably never return to read this, there are cultures and worlds outside of your own that in fact do affect you. anyone who walks around thinking otherwise is foolish. immigrants havent played a role in the development of modern America? please. Brown Girl, Brownstones is not only important for its beauty, but also for its capturing of Barbadian immigrants in Brooklyn around the time of World War II. the dialect and cadence of their speech is vibrantly bottled in the novel; someone said its hard to read.
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