Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.
What Came Before Paperback – July 18, 2014
2016 Book Awards
Browse award-winning titles. See all 2016 winners
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
This novel is an unraveling narrative of red herrings and second guesses, with twists and turns of plotline that keep you turning the pages. What Came Before is a detective story that is both engaging and enthralling, populated by vivid characters portrayed with a deft and precise prose. -Literary Fiction Book Review
Degani's affable debut, a suspenseful novel about mothers and daughters, aims to be thrilling, socially relevant and heartwarming all at once. --Kirkus Review
From the Author
In the beginning, Abbie's missing half-sister was white, like Abbie and like me, and I kept coming up with the question, "so what?" "Where's the tension?" I reached into my own life, my own experiences, my own childhood for clues.
I grew up in California, but my mom came from a little town in Louisiana and my dad from Iowa. Since he was a teacher, we used to climb into our old Pontiac as soon as school was out and head east to corn country, then head south to Terrebonne parish. That's where I ran smack dab into Jim Crow laws.
I loved going to the grocery store with my grandpa. He was a sunburned Santa Claus smelling of figs and cigars who liked to load up on rolls and rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, cans of tomato sauce and bottles of soda pop. I liked to ride on the front of the cart while he pushed down the aisles. Then when I was four or five - I don't really remember exactly - I wandered off to get a drink of water.
Two drinking fountains stood against the cluttered back wall of the market. I studied them, wondering which one I wanted. I'd never had a choice before. Not in California.
The left one was labeled "white" and the other labeled "colored."
I chose "colored," of course, because to my mind that meant the water would come out red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. When no rainbow showed up, I was disappointed. I turned on the white one. The two sprays of water were exactly the same. Clear and boring.
I ran back to my grandpa and told him what happened. He explained that one was for white people, the other for black. When I asked why, he just shrugged. I don't remember, but I think it was my father who to me this kind of fear and hatred existed in the world.
I wish I could say I knew instinctively at that young age the whole wrongness of it, but I didn't. It's something I learned as I grew into myself, through reading, through the experiences of the growing up in the fifties and sixties, through knowing people of many races - the different ways human beings exist in a real world. "What Came Before" springs from a desire to show that people are more alike than different, and it is our differences that enrich us. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed this novel. You will embrace Abbie as a slightly flawed but sympathetic, smart, resourceful, and relatable heroine. All the characters felt very real--they are still rattling around in my head. The writing is top-notch, and the plot is clever, suspenseful, and page-turning. I looked forward to reading it every night, and didn't want to stop. I hope the author writes a sequel to this book. It's great fun to have an English teacher as a detective, and I'd love to see what happens to Abbie in the future.
The personal narrative in the first person winds a journey that is unique and eye-opening. In one sense, Degani's known knowledge of the Afro-American nature in a White world proves to be the up-side of the book with black and white characters in search of a mystery with a psychological study that holds true uncommon angles. A book for the times written about the Tikki Palms, a fictional spot in sunny southern California.
At times, this novel is heart-pounding. Until the final chapters it is a page-turner, a real mini-thriller, watching Abbie Palmer discover herself and her past with a young woman named MacKenna who will steal your heart. It comes to light that this novel does not have that sometimes confusing, quixotic sense of too-moral aptitude and therefore gives us a straightforward slap-in-the-face style.
I love the storyline. It's jus that simple if you want to tag its popular knowledge of "cool" scenes and unusual circumstances. Without giving away the movement of what takes place, I'd like to comment on the relentless search for the key to a dead mother. Something others have done before. But in this case, flawless, like panning for gold and finding it. Degani knows how to build a plot well. The end is electrifying and somewhat spine-tinglingly ironic.
What a good read I had! Done in a fast clip of two sittings I liked the quick chapters and the culminating ending. Good job!
Abbie Palmer has a husband, grown children, and a comfortable life in the suburbs, but there’s something missing. Maybe it’s her age. She’s reached the time in her life when she is wondering if maybe she lost herself along the way. She rents a small apartment where she can paint and write and look for the Abbie Palmer who might exist out there.
Then comes the knock on the door. A nicely dressed woman tells her, “My mother is your mother.” Abbie tells the lady to get lost. But the woman leaves a note in the door with her number on it and Abbie tracks her down. The neighborhood is overrun with fire engines and police. A house had been fire bombed. The address is that of the woman who claims to have the same mother. The woman is dead. And the woman was African-American.
Now Abbie has a choice: Forget the entire thing or see what story Olita Jordon had to tell. Abbie has to piece it together sliver by sliver, but the fact her mother, a former actress who killed herself when Abbie was four, has haunted Abbie all her life makes this a journey worth taking. Maybe now she will learn who her mother really was and maybe Abbie will find herself along the way.
The journey uncovers many truths. For one, Olita Jordon has a daughter, a troubled daughter… much like Abbie was as she grew to adulthood. But by opening herself up to this young woman, Abbie opens herself up to whoever killed Olita, because there is a murder here.
But even with the danger, Abbie is on this quest to find the truth. The story is told beautifully and painfully from Abbie’s perspective and lets us see how what came before can impact ones life.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
What Came Before is the first novel I can remember that within no more than ten heartbeats after I finished it I went back to the beginning and started it again. It was that good. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Mathew Paust
I thoroughly enjoyed Gay Degani's literary suspense novel, What Came Before. Degani is the author of the well-regarded collection, Pomegranate Stories, and is editor-emeritus of... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Ray N.
I love a good mystery. What I loved most about this one, though, is the main character, a woman age 53 who is real, conflicted, unapologetic, and amazing. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Beate R. Sigriddaughter
Loved this book. A great story, well done. Nice job Gay. Will be looking for all your other work.Published 8 months ago by the landscaper
A few years ago I stopped reading mysteries. Stopped finding them interesting enough, stopped thinking them worth my while. Read morePublished 13 months ago by polutropos
A literary mystery with a very sympathetic protagonist, this book is full of suspense and surprises. Read morePublished 16 months ago by BKSchroeder
I might not have found this book if it hadn't been recommended to me by a friend and I loved it for a couple reasons. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Holly Carman Fujioka
Great books aren't just great characters and great writing, they have to have an intriguing setup, some nice twists, and an ending that you didn't see coming - and that's how I... Read morePublished 17 months ago by RLS