45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
A Gathering of Old Men, set in 1970s Louisiana, is one of the richest and most powerful novels about race relations written in the last few decades. It's really a simple story that could be told fairly quickly, but the event upon which the novel is based is in some ways peripheral to the story. The whole point of the novel is to pry deeply into the hearts and minds of men, both black and white, reveal the pains and struggles that each of them has either dealt out or dealt with, and to reveal the poignant humanity in a group of brave old men who have essentially counted for nothing in their own minds and are determined to take advantage of one last opportunity to stand up for themselves, their friends and families, and their ancestors.
Beau Boutan is dead, lying out in the weeds beside his shotgun, and everyone knows who killed him. He was shot in Mathu's yard, and Mathu is the only black man on the place that has ever stood up for himself against the Boutans. By the time Sheriff Mapes arrives on the scene, the situation is far from simple, though. Eighteen old black men are assembled in the yard, each with a shotgun and an empty shell of the type that cut Beau down, and each one of them says he killed Beau. Candy is there, the white lady half-raised by old Mathu after her parents were killed, and she is determined to defend Mathu and all of the blacks on her land the way her parents and grandparents defended them in the past. She says she killed Beau and will confess the crime in court. Mapes has a problem on his hands. Fix Boutan, the dead man's father, is sure to come down to the quarters seeking revenge, and there is bound to be a lynching if Mapes can't get everything straightened out before Fix has time to get there. All the old black men gathered in the yard are there because of Fix. Each one of them has lived a long time without ever really standing up for himself; they've all taken abuse quietly, and they have seen their women and children abused right in front of their eyes for what seems like forever. Now, they see they have a last chance to stand up for themselves against Fix and his cruel gang. They have come for a fight, and no one is going to talk them out of it.
Gaines gives us multiple points of view in this novel. Each chapter is related in first person by one of the characters, and the results are incredibly revealing. We learn a great deal about these men, the lives they have led, and their own feelings about those lives. It's really quite intense and revealing. This is not a story of racial hatred, however, despite the fact that a number of white characters have led hateful lives. Twenty years earlier, Fix Boutan would have been revenged his boy's murder without even thinking about it, and this is the Fix Boutan the old black men expect and indeed hope to take their stand against. Times are changing, though, and the younger generation, men such as Beau's brother Gil, don't think the same way that the older generations do. Thus, there is as much hope as anguish in this novel. To some degree, not a lot happens in terms of action over the course of the story, so some may find the reading a little long and boring, but even those who don't fully appreciate the human dimensions of the story will be rewarded by the path the final chapters take and the action that does take place toward the end. I have to say that Ernest J. Gaines proves himself to be an incredible writer, able to communicate thoughts, feelings, and history itself in a manner most writers can never hope to match. A Gathering of Old Men isn't overly complex or lengthy, so there is no reason why anyone should deny himself or herself the pleasure of enjoying and learning from this true landmark of a novel.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2003
"A Gathering of Old Men" is a great novel by Ernest J Gaines who again so vividly captures the prejudice in the south in the 1970's. The book focuses on racial issues of the Southern United States, and also the companionship between friends and the strength of family. Like I said the book takes place in Louisiana in 1970 and starts off with a killing of a Cajun farm worker, Beau Boutan. One of the black workers, Mathu, states that he's killed Beau. Candy, the Cajun owner of the farm says that Mathu is just protecting her, yet no one believes her. All the black men from the surrounding plantations come and state they have killed Beau too....or they just as much a reason to. Clatoo leads the black men to the plantation with their empty shotguns each of them trying to prove a point to themselves as well as to the whit community. The Sheriff, Mapes, arrived to meet them and figure out who he is going to take to jail, while also trying to radio to his deputy to keep Fix at home. Fix is Beau's father and notorious for organizing lynching mobs against blacks. Each chapter of the story is told by each character, including the black men, the sheriff and everyone in between. Giving us insight and history of Black Pride and how its formed. It gives a strong feeling of community and maturity. It shows how the South is changing, as well as the black community. "A Gathering of Old Men" by Ernest J Gaines is a great book to read and I highly recommend it. Gaines' vivid descriptions throughout the book makes you think you are there. You can feel the apprehension and frustration of the characters, as well as see the southern countryside through his words. His unique style of writing the book, telling the story from different points of view., from the good people and the bad people, the young and old. Gaines' new style along with the vivid description make this a must read book.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2001
Ernest Gaines clearly demonstrates his love of the land and people of Louisiana in A Gathering of Old Men. In a storyline which has similarities with Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, eighteen old Afro-American men take a stand by admitting to a murder of the local racist bully Beau Boutan. Their position gives them the authority to redeem their dignity.
Ernest Gaines is a masterful writer and a compelling story-teller. The book is structured almost as a number of short stories. Each chapter adds to the whole and is told from a different persons point of view. Each short synapsis provides insight into a new character and the choices and perspectives which they hold.
This is a story about changing times, the late 1970's. This is a story about strength and dignity. This is a story about father and son. This is a story about black and white. There is so much involved in this short novel. In addition to that, it is told in a way that is interesting and readable. I had trouble putting the book down. It certainly was one of the more important books I have read in years.
I advise anyone concerned about the vitality and diversity found in American Literature to read this.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2006
Set in a rural area of Louisiana in the 1970s, this novel encompasses the anxiety-producing, the edge-of-your-seat, the heartwarming and the soul-stirring emotions that I've seldomly found in one book these days.
When the Cajun famer, Beau Bouton is found dead in an old black man's yard early in the story, you can rest assured that there's going to be trouble. This is when the local black community steps in to protect the accused, and prominently featured are 18 previously-downtrodden old men. These men, women and children gather together their courage to stand up to the town's redneck sheriff and local hillbillies. As you might imagine, this would not have been an easy thing to do even then, especially not without the fear of retaliation from the 'law.'
Candy, a white woman who was raised by both a white woman and the black man who stands accused of murder, is the one who helped to rally the troops within the black community and take a stand against injustice. She definitely has her moments when you might find it difficult to sympathize with her, but she seems to have a good heart.
You're also introduced to Chimley, Coot, Dirty Red and a host of characters who make this story very entertaining and almost impossible to put down.
Ernest Gaines is a true master storyteller because his books are lively and humorous, yet still give readers insight into living in the 'Old South'! Reading this book takes me back to the stories that I used to hear my parents and grandparents telling us about race relations here in the South. It may rile up my anger, but it also lays bare what has taken place and what still occurs to this day. The dialect is on point too, which I still hear spoken in some areas now.
Although it may seem like I have practically read the book to you with this longer-than-usual review, it's just the tip of the iceberg! I would highly recommend this book to anyone out there who is looking to add a definite classic to his or her library.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 1999
This book was a great read, so good in fact that it only took me two hours to finish the entire thing. I could not put it down. I saw the movie before I read the book and I must tell you the movie did not do the book justice. Ernest Gaines out did himself, he is one of the best writers I have ever read. He ranks up there with Ellison, Walker, and F.Scott Fitzgerald. This book was one of the most realistic views of the Southern Justice system since "To Kill a Mockingbird" like the characters in that novel, the Black folks know that someone White's word is next to God's and no amount if truth can change that. This book allows the readers to see that we as people must stand up for what we know is right and just, we must not allow people to take justice into their own hands because they feel that they can. This book like no other shows how changing times affects people's views. The plantation owner's son who comes home from college and tries to reason with his family about how to deal reasonably and effectively with the racial implications is superb. He understands that he has to play with and go to school with Blacks and that is a fact that he and his family must learn to live with and accept. Gaines has great character dialogue and great character development, and that makes this book flow like running water. It is absolutely great, it brought water to my eyes when I finished.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2000
Set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation in the 1970's, AGathering of Old Men is a powerful depiction about race relations andracial tensions arising in the south. When a white man named Beau Boutan is murdered, eighteen old black men come together to do something they have never done before, stand up for themselves. The book tells, in detail, 15 different narrators' point of views of how this whole episode went down. This book is a good example of race relations in the south, and can be related to other situations in other places, even if it's not the exact same situation. To me this book is a very detailed, powerful book, but because of all it's details the book goes by very slow, and sometimes begins to get very boring. The book could have been told with only one or two narrators in only a few chapters. I would recommend this book to anyone who has the time and patience to sit down, read the book, and try to fully understand it. END
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2004
Ernest J. Gaines brings a 1970's Louisiana plantation to life in A Gathering of Old Men. A Cajun man, Beau Boutan, lies dead on a black man's farm and Mapes, a white sheriff, must solve this unusual racial dilemma. In addition to the main suspect, there are seventeen old black men with shotguns and one Cajun lady who all confess to the murder. As the day progresses, Mapes presses to find the culprit by whatever means he has at his disposal, often resorting to corporal punishment. During this time, we can see three strong forces in the plot, all consenting and opposing each other's opinions and points of view: Candy, being a Cajun and a lady, is pushed aside as the killer in the "investigation" by Mapes; the old, black men, who are proving to both themselves and to others that, in their old age, they can still present a force to be reckoned with, and Mapes himself, who acts the tough sheriff until time comes down to the wire to uncover the murderer of Fix Boutan's son.
A Gathering of Old Men brings out the racial tension of the Deep South, but at the same time, shows the reader that a most unsuspecting bond can form at any time. Ernest J. Gaines cleverly intertwines the numerous characters, making their use of the local dialect an integral part of his story telling. The colorful and expressive dialog replaces the need for lengthy descriptions of people and settings. The fascinating and unpredictable story line makes this a great novel, one that is hard to put down.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2000
I thought A Gathering of Old Men was excellent. This was my first experience with an Ernest Gaines novel. I, however, did not see the movie before reading the book. I, therefore, had no prior expectations about outcomes.
This book is well written. I loved the detail given to describe each character. This, I feel, is part of the uniqueness of the book. Mr. Gaines allows us the opportunity to explore many of the "old men's" decision making processes. I, then, analyzed my own feelings and what I would do had I been on that plantation in Louisiana.
Race relations, of course, is the gist of the book. It is not, however, a "take up arms, I'm ready for a revolution" type of theme. It simply shows one incident in which black pride and cohesion was displayed.
The book is fairly short and difficult to put down. I read it in one sitting. I would highly recommend it. It was a nice deviation from my usual relationship novels.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2002
This is a good read, but I was particularly impressed with how it came across as an audiobook. I do lots of these, and this was most impressive. The entire book is in the first person, but with many different perspectives. A different narator was used for each person, and they had very different voices and styles. Each narrator really brought something to the role, and the voices had a way of focusing on their perspective in a way that I don't think would be capture by simply the written word. It also contained the most intense scene in any audiobook I have listened to as one protagonist struggles with a critical decision that pits family against morality against personal benefits, and as a listener we get to hear various views on the situation by different participants. Enjoy.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2001
I have only recently become familiar with Ernest Gaines, and this is the second of his books that I have read. In this one, he gives a unique look at the racial tension between blacks and whites. The book begins with a white man who has been shot. A gathering of old black men ensues, and each claims to the white sherrif, in their attempt to protect the real killer, that they committed the murder.
During the reading of this book, as a midwestern white woman, I developed a new appreciation for why today, blacks still feel the effects of past oppression at the hands of whites. The book was set in the 1970's, giving readers a good perspective on why the tensions still persist.
I enjoyed the sense of unity that was present in the black community in this novel, and cheered the determination of each of the characters while they stood to make their point.
The only negative I found in the book was the confusion brought on by the number of characters in the cast. At times it was difficult to keep them all straight. However, as I write this, I'm thinking that maybe that was the point. I was forced to keep looking back and reviewing, as I learned to identify each of them as individuals.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is willing to work a little at a worthwhile read.