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on April 11, 2006
This is a very graphic and gritty novel but not for the squeamish, faint of heart or those who want a happy ending because a happy ending you're not going to get. A friend told me to give this a try and I must say it was probably one of the most nailbiting page turning protrayals of inner city 1930s black urban life. I seriously could not put it down as much as I wanted to at some points.

The story is about Otis Tilson, otherwise known as Sally or Tilly by his cross dressing pals or Sweet Pea by the arachnoid mother of the title.

The Tilsons, a cotton picking family living on a plantation in the South, come into a windfall from a family member "up North" and pack up their bags and move to a 1930s Chicago ghetto where racism, drugs, prostitution, violence and police brutality run rampant and unchecked.

Told from the perspective of Otis at the age of ten we watch as the once happy and moderately successful family slowly unravel and fall into ruin because of Mama's obsession with money. As a result, Papa becomes a broken shell of a man, sister Carol falls in love with the wrong suitor with tragic results, sister Bessie turns to prostitution with a bleak outcome, brother Junior turns to a life of crime and murder and even Otis, grappling with his homosexuality,comes to his own unfortunate end.

Definitely on the order of Hubert Selby Jr's novels, Mama Black Widow tells a story of down and out people living in a private hell with no where to go but down. Like Selby's Requiem for A Dream, Mama Black Widow would make a compelling, gritty and heart wrencHing movie.

The only complaint I had about the novel were the excessive amount of typos even to the point where whole sentences were left out. It did add an extra gritty realism to the novel and seeing that my copy was an original pressing from 1969, I can only hope the typos were corrected in more recent pressings. I can't wait to get my hands on more Iceberg Slim.
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on April 18, 2010
i smoke weed 24/7. and guess what this book did.......it kept me away from going to the trap to get some loud and kept me from going to the store to get me some swisher sweets. it kept me sober for 3 dayz straight!
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on June 23, 2006
THIS BOOK CAUGHT ME BY SURPRIZED. I SAW ICEBERG SLIM AND THOUGHT A ANOTHER, GREAT BOOK ABOUT PIMP HUSTLER'S. I WAS SHOCKED TO FIND IT TAKES PLACE IN A CHICAGO, IL. IN A NIEGHBORHOOD, I CURRENTLY LIVE IN. A SAD AND TEAR JERKING BOOK. FOR MAN THAT REFUSED TO EVER CRY. SADLY THIS BOOK IS SAID, TO BE A BOOK ABOUT HOMOSEXUALS. I STRONGLY DISAGREE. THIS BOOK IS ABOUT THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BLACK FAMILY. A MOTHER WILLING TO SELL HER OWN CHILDS SOLE FOR FANCY CLOTHES AND LATEST GOOD'S. THIS BOOK HAS MADE ME LOOK AT THE WAY I TREAT PEOPLE I DONT KNOW. FORCE ME TO LOOK AT MY COMMUNITY WITH NEW EYE'S. THANK YOU ICEBERG SLIM. - PARIS. CHICAGO.
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on February 13, 2016
Otis Tilson, a drag queen, recalls his life as a child on a Southern cotton plantation and of his families move in 1936 to the supposed Utopia of Chicago. His domineering and controlling Mama, who forced the move to Chicago,aids and abets the destruction of her family as much as the cruel and unforgiving ghetto they live in.....
This is realism at its most brutal ; it hits you full on, but there is also huge depth to this novel. The disintegration of a family and humanity; the destruction of an honest father who wants no more than to provide for his family are every bit as powerful as Steinbeck's depiction of the collapse of the Joads in 'Grapes of Wrath' (though the Mama's were of a different type !) And all portrayed against the realism of a corrupt police force (one that has been well recorded since) and the denial of any hope simply due to being black, and the festering wound that this left and leaves.
The book opens and ends in 1968/9 where Otis learns of Martin Luther Kings murder ; where evil once again triumphs over innocence and peaceful human ways of finding justice are destroyed.
I found 'Mama Black Widow' far more powerful and real than James Baldwin's 'Another Country' , which gets far more recognition-and follows broadly similar themes- than Iceberg Slim's novel. I would go as far as to say that 'Mama Black Widow' is the novel James Baldwin tried to write when he wrote 'Another Country'.
A brutal and sympathetic book that deserves far more widespread recognition and reading.
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on July 12, 2013
Read this book 30-40 years ago and misplaced my copy of it (probably still in the house somewhere) It was a VERY good read, so I decided to get it again. Gives interesting insight to one mans' life growing up in the south and his family migrating to one of the northern states, and their struggles along the way and after they get there. This author been long dead, but he wrote some very interesting books that will always be in my collection, and I do recommend, if you like this genre.
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on September 23, 2013
I totally enjoyed reading the book. It was true to life and mesmerizing. Iceberg slim is an excellent writher. I felt like a fly on the wall at all the scenes in the book. The grammatical errors were few and I understood the book. This is a must read even in the 21st century. It is still relevant.
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on September 29, 2014
This was a love hate relationship with a mother who doesn't know how to really love her children. Not all mothers are like this but I feel that if you are not given the love you deserve you should leave immediately! Let that person go and move onward fast as possible.
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on February 6, 2014
Iceberg got deep in this book. It is a must read for insight on the early Development and mindset of the Black man, the homosexual man, the black women and the oppression in this homophobic society. If u are looking for answers they are clearly cleverly hidden behind the walls of this masterpiece. Only gave it four stars because I wanted more.
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on May 29, 2014
I love Iceberg Slim. I love how he tells the truth about the experience of the time. I love how he allowed Otis Tilson to tell his own truth. It's a great read. Real life doesn't always have happy endings.
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on January 24, 2013
Black Mama Widow tells a very, very vivid and detailed story of a woman that is basically responsible for the downfall of her whole family. Psycho,crazy, bipolar no words can describe this lady. The story is told from the perspective of her youngest child, Otis Tilson and how he experienced and witnessed so much evil at the hands of his own mother. I wanted to cry several times during the book. Some of the slang in the book is really hard to understand, but the story comes across just the same as if in normal english. I recommend it to all readers.... adults to be exact.
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