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Some Sing, Some Cry: A Novel Hardcover – September 14, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sisters and playwrights Ntozake Shange (for colored girls who have considered suicide) and Ifa Bayeza (the play The Ballad of Emmett Till) have composed a sweeping African-American saga animating 200 years of history through the voices of seven generations of the Mayfield family's women, beginning with Elizabeth (Ma Bete), a freed slave, and her granddaughter Eudora. Their fate and that of their progeny follows historical events from the Jim Crow South to the civil rights movement with tragedy and triumph: Eudora is gang raped, giving birth to light-skinned Elma, who grows up and moves to New York followed by her half-sister, Lizzie, a single mother with her own tragic past. Lizzie redefines herself during the Harlem Renaissance, abandoning her daughter, Cinnamon, to become a cabaret legend in Paris. Cinnamon carries the story through the 1940s and the 1960s Chicago busing, but here the novel unravels in a rush to wrap things up with too many characters and no time to develop them. This is a complex poetic treatise on race, culture, love, and family, the use of regional vernacular, dialect, and pure song, resulting in a provocative fictional history.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Revered poet, playwright, and novelist Shange teams up with her award-winning playwright sister Bayeza in this encompassing historical saga of African American life. In its riveting dramatization of the promise of emancipation, the brutality of Reconstruction, the baroque cruelty of the Jim Crow era, all the way to the possibilities of the digital age, this bittersweet tale of seven generations in a family of mixed blood and musical genius weaves together essential historical facts and profound emotional truths. The postbellum exodus of Betty, a woman of spiritual powers, from a decimated South Carolina plantation––where she endured a tragic entanglement with the owner and gave life to children of unusual beauty, talent, and determination—launches this engrossing novel. Each character is magnetizing––from Betty to her ambitious daughter Eudora to her renegade daughter Lizzie to brave Osceola to Cinnamon, Tokyo, and Liberty. Each setting, from Charleston to Harlem, is brilliantly realized, and each social convulsion, most strikingly the violence against black veterans of WWI, is intimately illuminated, while anguished conflicts erupt between men and women in shattering microcosms of larger societal crimes. With music as a sustaining force, Shange and Bayeza's epic of courage, improvisation, and transcendence is glorious in its scope, lyricism, and spectrum of yearnings, convictions, and triumphs. --Donna Seaman

Read an Excerpt from the Book
Download the first chapter from Some Sing, Some Cry [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031219899X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312198992
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #694,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ntozake Shange, poet, novelist, playwright, and performer, wrote the Broadway-produced and Obie Award-winning For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. She has also written numerous works of fiction, including Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo, Betsy Brown, and Liliane.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In the enduring tradition of great African-American literature reminiscent of such luminary women writers as Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, sisters Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza have blended their voices to sing as one in co-authorship of a brilliant kaleidoscope of heritage and culture ~ Some Sing, Some Cry: A Novel.

Never do the authors miss a beat in this factual and fictional account of African-American life spanning seven generations of the Mayfield family. With dialogue which is authentic and convincing and often capturing the innermost thoughts of its colorful characters, the authors deliver a compelling narrative in a single harmonious voice and not once does that voice stray off key. Theirs is a powerful story driven by the rhythm of life, beginning at the emancipation of slavery and proceeding until the present day 21st century. The theme is exemplary ~ "Slavery leaves telling marks lasting generations, still every word out of our mouths is a song."

From the very first pages on, music pulsates from every beautifully composed sentence. The prose is so lyrical it sings. The first chapter, vastly rhapsodic and lushly poetic, is a rainbow of perfectly chosen words in celebration of color and every rich hue of blackness. I was compelled to immediately reread Chapter One over and over again for the shear beauty of its language ~ the sweeping poetic prose is so arresting.

In fact, color and music give solid structure to this very unique novel of African-American history and culture. For me it is was like reading the libretto of a contemporary lyric opera; I thought of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess often.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book reads more like a collection of short stories than a cohesive tale about a family. My main problem is that as soon as a character reaches a crucial point in her life, the story jumps ahead by years and decades and moves on to someone else. It happens with Eudora in a couple of instances but most notably after her husband leaves her. She was in dire straights, but we hear nothing about her again until her oldest daughter returns to South Carolina for a funeral. It happens with Eudora's daugher Lizzie who flees the south in hopes of making it in show business only to wind up living with relatives in New York while waiting for her big break. Lizzie comes face to face with a man from her past who hurt her and her family immeasurably, so she leaves the country. We hear bits and pieces about what happened to her once she left America, but it's not nearly enough. The same thing happens with Lizzie's daughter Cinnamon. Cinnamon goes from being enrolled in a graduate opera program at Julliard to being a married woman with three children with very little exploration of how her life evolved.

The writing is very good and the stories are interesting, but I do think that the book suffers for trying to combine all these characters into one book. Also, the ending is pretty anti-climactic.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Some Sing, Some Cry" follows one family from the end of slavery through the events of the Civil Rights Movement and ends in the current century. The novel's text provides a somewhat simplified, yet comprehensive overview of the reasons for the Civil Rights Movement and its impact on lives of both U.S. citizens and expatriates. Music and song play an important role in the lives of the characters - like an aria, some individuals will soar above the obstacles they encounter. However, other characters will withdraw into themselves, shedding tears and giving up on the future, on their dreams, and on life.

Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza have created interesting female characters whose strengths and weaknesses affect not only the particular individual's life, but also the lives of others with whom they come into contact. Bette Mayfield, the family matriarch, influences her family through the seven generations by virtue of her courage and determination. Eudora, her daughter, was initially a strong presence in the story, but was lost as the narrative progressed into her own daughter's lives. Reintroduced in a latter section of the book as a successful businesswoman, it would have been interesting to learn more of the direction her life had taken and of the obstacles she had overcome in order to achieve her success.

Eula Walker, Eudora's daughter, abandons her dreams of an education for family reasons and provides the reader with an overall sense of her resignation to life's circumstances. Her life reflects, in many ways, those of other African-American women whose potential was extinguished by societal dictates.
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Format: Hardcover
"Some, Sing, Some Cry" is a lengthy, panoramic saga of an African American family that spans seven generations and over 100 years of history. The book is jointly written by novelists and playwrights Ntozake Shange, author of "For Colored Girls who have considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf" and her sister, Ifa Bayeza, author of "The Ballad of Emmett Till". The book begins in the Gullah Islands of South Carolina in the years following the Civil War with Bette Mayfield, known as Mah Bette, and her young granddaughter, Eudora, as the pair flee from the islands to Charleston. Mah Better is a conjurer who sells amulets and casts spells along the Charleston wasterfront. Eudora is driven and ambitious. She hopes to succeed in Charleston's African American high society through her skills as a dressmaker.

The tale of the family continues through Charleston and the end of Reconstruction, to WW I in Europe, to New York City, the outset of WW II in France, to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and much more. The family is a partial unifying thread for the story as is the varied music and broad musical talents of many of the protagonists. "The Music, Always the Music" as the family history is aptly summarized late in the novel (p. 556) Music is a metaphor for hope and purpose as the characters pursue their dreams.

The family members have their joys and their sorrows. Sexual abuse is a pervasive theme of the novel beginning with Mah Bette and her early forced relationship with the plantation owner. Two of Mah Bette's descendants suffer brutal sexual assaults which result in offspring who, in turn, become major characters in the family saga.
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