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Four Spirits Paperback – September 7, 2004

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Four Spirits + Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette (P.S.) + Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-gazer: A Novel (P.S.)
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

During the civil rights conflict, Birmingham, Ala., was notorious for the ferocity of its racial bigotry: peaceful demonstrators attacked with fire hoses and dogs by police chief Bull Connor; the Klan-set explosion at a black church that killed four little girls. The four victims are only background figures in Naslund's (Ahab's Wife) faithful and moving evocation of the city and the era, but they appear to several characters in the form of spirits who promise the reconciliation to come. The novel is constructed as a series of vignettes that follow a dozen or so characters whose lives finally intersect in entirely credible ways, and who serve as emblems of the divided citizens of Birmingham, some who bitterly fought integration and others who persevered in their struggle for equality. As such, it's a panorama of the social landscape of the Deep South during its violent crucible of change. Naslund, who grew up in Alabama, writes with a deep, instinctive compassion for the South's tragic heritage of racial hatred, and an understanding of the high toll paid by people committed to justice. She develops her plot in a leisurely fashion that initially may leave readers somewhat frustrated, but her method eventually pays off in stunning scenes, vivid with action, color and emotion, that recreate both the horror and the heroism. The characters pivot around Stella Silver, a white college student who is horrified by the glee in her community when JFK is assassinated, and who is moved to activism. In its authentic, balanced evocation of daily life across a wide spectrum of the black and white communities, this novel justifies its length and measured pace, and credibly renders the faith and courage that brought redemption to a blood-soaked city.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-The author of Ahab's Wife (Morrow, 1999), a feminist corrective to Moby-Dick, has picked an equally ambitious subject for this novel: the racial injustice, hatred, and horror of Birmingham, AL, circa 1963. With a full cast of fictional characters, and a few historical figures (Police Commissioner Bull Connor, the Reverends Shuttlesworth, King, and Abernathy), Naslund weaves a busy but satisfying story of real and imagined events: lunch-counter sit-ins, fire-hosed demonstrators, police dogs at children's heels. The title refers to the spiritual presence (felt by several characters) of the four young girls who died in the horrendous bombing of their church. One matronly woman "sees" them as honeybees on roses, one bee to a rose. Because of this and other such contrivances, some readers might find the narrative strained, and the principal characters either too good or too horrible. For the most part, though, the author manages to keep this big story under control, in part by employing a measured narrative pace. There is plenty of value here for strong, informed teens. Undoubtedly, some readers will find the novel too slow, or too full of names and events, and thus confusing. But for those who can handle the mature themes, Four Spirits is an excellent history lesson, and a story not soon forgotten.
Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (May 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006093669X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060936693
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sena Jeter Naslund is the author of the novels Four Spirits and Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette and a short story collection, The Disobedience of Water. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, she is a winner of the Harper Lee Award; Distinguished Teaching Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of Louisville; director of the Spalding University brief-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing program; former poet laureate of Kentucky; and editor of The Louisville Review and the Fleur-de-Lis Press.

Customer Reviews

I finally read this book.
Ann's Goodreads
Each character is brought to life, and the story is three-dimensional and highly textured.
S. Calhoun
I found the characters simply boring and did not care about them.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Genevieve Kazdin on September 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Naslund uses her sensuous language to bring alive events surrounding some of the most shameful events in our national history. Her telling of the story of the four little girls bombed to death in a Birmingham church concentrates on those who were there -- those affected by these tragic deaths in many different ways. In short and sparkling chapters Naslund brings these characters to life: Not only those struggling to right the wrongs, but those responsible for committing them. Should you read this book? Yes. If you were not alive during the tumult of the early sixties, you should read this book and think. Yes. If you were alive you should read this book and remember. Always remember. For it is ever true that those of us who do not remember our history will find a way to repeat it.
Naslund, with unimpeachable skill, fictionalizes the horrors, creates recognizeable humans to populate her story, and makes an imperative of remembrance. Naslund's skill is formidable. She is a writer to pay attention to. She knows the human heart in darkness and in light.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A. C. Hughes on October 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having lived and grown up in Birmingham, AL during this period of its history, this book was of particular interest to me. Ms. Naslund has captured the flavor, the ectasy, the heartbreak of this time in a very ingenious manner, focusing on the lives of some ten to twelve individual people during this time of turmoil and heartbreak. Her chapters are short, which makes the book more compelling and difficult to put down, and the ending is truly magnificent. Ms. Naslund with her latest book continues to add to her reputation as a tremendously gifted and deeply sensitive writer. It is truly a breathtaking and unforgettable novel.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Sheri in Reho TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
I just finished "Four Spirits" this weekend--after TWO MONTHS of reading. In part, it took me this long because it is over 500 pages; in part, because I kept it at work and only read on my lunch break; and, in part, because the emotional weight of this story is so intense that it just isn't material that you breeze have to absorb its impact if you are to reap the full benefits of the experience.

Naslund brilliantly weaves real events (such as the bombing of a Birmingham church in which four little girls perished) and real people (Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in the civil rights movement) into a rich tapestry of fictional characters and events. Through these fictional characters, we see and feel the impact of the horrific events of this shameful period in our history.

In the beginning, I had a hard time with the format--each short chapter was about a different character, so it might be many chapters before the storyline you were most interested in would resume. I understood that it was necessary to introduce the characters fully and deeply enough that I would care about them when the tragic events of this story start unfolding. In that, Ms. Naslund was very successful.

It must be said that this book is very difficult to read--not journalistically or linguistically, but emotionally. That is not to say it is a story that should not be told or read. I am deeply grateful that I have experienced it and yet, there were times when I said "I can't take any more" because the intensity of emotion and piling-on effect of tragic events was just too much (the irony that the people in Birmingham--and all across the South--in the 1960s may have been feeling the same way is not lost on me).

I have read many sad books.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Kramer on January 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In the author's note, Sena Naslund writes that she wanted to "write about the acts of courage and tragedy" that took place in Birmingham where she was a college student. I feel she did a very good job of portraying the difficult choices people involved in the civil rights movement had to make and the effect of those choices and the courage it took. For this, the book is worth reading.
I had difficulty however with keeping track of the various characters and who they were, for some reason. It is a long book, but even by the end I often felt myself saying, "now who is that again". I just didn't feel engaged with the characters, they are not ones who will stick with me.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on March 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Four Spirits," Sena Jeter Naslund's majestic, reflective and somber recreation of a pivotal period during the civil rights movement, reminds us that once upon a time, unknown moral giants lived amongst us. While inspirational giants such as Martin Luther King, Jr., served as our national moral compass, anonymous men, women and children -- some of whom would become martyrs to the cause of racial justice -- transformed King's lofty rhetoric to concrete reality. Their individual acts of conscience placed them at enormous risk, yet they summoned, from the depths of their personal convictions, the courage to act on principled belief.

Naslund's novel interweaves the lives of the foot soldiers of the movement; she unflinchingly exposes their fears, ambivalences and doubts about personal valor, the efficacy of non-violence and the possibility of creating a society based on racial egalitarianism. Each character has an integrity and a wholeness, a core set of values, which make them not only understandable to us, but believable. "Four Spirits," therefore, is a work that is much greater than the sum of its parts. At its best, the novel is an evocation of the spirit of possibility that animated African-American and white men, women and children to sacrifice everything for an idea whose very nature exemplifies our national purpose. As the characters grapple with their own demons, ranging from profound personal loss to serious character weakness, Naslund effects a gripping narrative of a city, Birmingham, Alabama, locked in the grip of the greatest social movement for change in the twentieth century.

Stella, who survived a horrific childhood automobile accident that claimed the lives of her family, describes herself as "somebody who wanted to live more fully.
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