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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*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