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Twelve Gates to the City (Tommy Lee Tyson) Hardcover – December 6, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 107 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

DANIEL OMOTOSHO BLACK was raised in Blackwell, Arkansas and now teaches at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned the Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple University then returned to Clark Atlanta as a professor with hopes of inspiring young black minds to believe in themselves. His heart's desire is to write literature which celebrates the African American presence in America and teaches the world how to be more human. He is the author of Perfect Peace, They Tell Me of a Home and The Sacred Place.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

CHAPTER 1
 

Standing at the edge of the road, where the brown scorched grass confronted the hot, black asphalt, TL looked around in disbelief, just as he’d done a week earlier. He didn’t understand the implications of his actions, but he soon would. He’d later explain that something was tugging at his spirit, begging him, as it were, to stay. And he’d be right.
For now, he simply pondered, What the hell was I thinking?, as he sighed and watched the bus disappear into a distant heat wave. Across the highway, butterflies hovered peacefully and wildflowers waved, celebrating his return. TL closed his eyes, allowing the sweet fragrance to convince him he’d done the right thing, although he wasn’t fully convinced.
“I don’t believe this!” he murmured. “How in the world am I supposed to make this work?” A chuckle, deep in the caverns of his chest, rumbled forth as if he finally comprehended what he’d done. Momma’s note lay crumbled in his right front pocket. That was the real reason he’d gotten off the bus, wasn’t it? He couldn’t let it go. Or let her go. He’d always wanted her love. Or attention. Or affirmation. At least now they could talk about it. For real. But that would come later. For now, he had to accept that he was home—and he was home to stay.
Sweat broke free across his forehead as if he had a deadly fever. In his imagination, he saw Daddy’s stern, cold eyes staring at him, pleading with him to make a decision and stick with it. That’s what Daddy always said, that a man—a real, bona fide man—oughta make a decision and stand on it, regardless of what it costs.
TL lifted his bags with tremulous hands. Who am I kidding? I can’t live in Swamp Creek again! Especially not now! He remembered that he’d lived there before, but that was a different time, he thought, a simpler context. I was a child then! He’d convinced himself that the community had tolerated his peculiarities precisely because he wasn’t an adult. They’d dismissed all his strange, unsettling ways with the hope that time or education or God would change them, but they hadn’t. He was far stranger now than then, and he wasn’t convinced homefolks would appreciate what he’d become. Yet, somewhere in his heart, he knew he was supposed to be there.
It was 5:14 P.M., mid-June, 1993, with no shade in sight. The Meetin’ Tree was at least two miles away, and the sun sat blazing in the heavens. It promised to bake him three shades darker by the time he arrived at the tree. There were no houses around and, this time of day, people were either lounging before noisy window fans or, like our folks, consumed with outside chores. TL’s only option was to bow his head and start walking.
Engulfed in stifling heat, he couldn’t tell if he was moving at all. The smoldering air suffocated him like a sauna and scorched his throat. Every tree, rock, blade of dry grass, bird looked exactly alike, as if frozen in time. After twenty minutes or so, he dropped the bags and wiped sweaty palms against his pants. Water drenched his back and gathered in pools of moisture between his thighs. The inner band of his cap was soggy, and the bottom edges of his shirt, serving as a makeshift handkerchief, were saturated with sweat. I must be a fool, he thought. Then, with a quick shrug, he dismissed the notion, having decided that this was neither the time nor the place for personal reflection, so he lifted the bags and pressed on.
The blistering sun blinded him. Its unrelenting heat caused the bags to feel heavier now, as if, suddenly, they’d been filled with sand. “I can’t believe I did this,” he repeated. “How in the world am I going to live in Swamp Creek again?”
A faint strain from Uncle Jesse Lee’s harmonica invaded his thoughts. The coarse melody, fumbling across treetops and hay fields, resurrected memories of the old man playing blues at the Meetin’ Tree on Saturday evenings. Grandma called it the devil’s music. Having crowned himself a virtuoso years ago, he did really bad renditions of B. B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Johnny T. Walker. Of course he couldn’t sing—the community had confirmed that—but he thought he played well—which he didn’t—so on Saturday evenings, he sat at the Meetin’ Tree, singing loudly and playing his favorite blues tunes. Sometimes folks would stop by and listen for a spell, but most often he sat alone, playing with the same fervor either way. As children, we laughed at him, blowing a few bars, then singing a few, back and forth, until he got tired and went home. His foot kept time against the wooden church pew as his head bobbed with each downbeat. Occasionally, he’d close his eyes and melt into the music while others swayed and swooned, but that didn’t happen often. Usually, as people went about their lives, Uncle Jesse Lee sat at the tree, performing for the wind and leaves, mimicking blues masters and composing songs about his own troubled existence. TL was surprised Uncle Jesse Lee was there so early. In bygone years, he hadn’t arrived until evening, spending the bulk of his afternoon reading his Sunday school lesson and washing by hand his white formal church shirt. Yet he was supposed to be there. It was all part of the plan.
TL walked on. The damp shirt clung to his back while streams of living water trickled into his underwear. A ’79 El Camino sped past, creating a temporary whirlwind of hot, dry air. Consumed therein, TL wondered, again, why the hell he’d gotten off that bus. Truth was, he didn’t know. Or didn’t want to know. Momma would definitely ask, and his inability to answer might make him regret having stayed.
Where could he go? He couldn’t go home. Not yet. How would he explain his presence, an hour after folks thought he was gone forever? He considered that perhaps everything he’d done in the past ten years was in preparation for this moment. Maybe every hurt, every longing, every heartbreak, every degree was ultimately for this life. TL frowned at the clear, blue sky, hoping for a sign, but saw only a brown chicken hawk gliding above.
Suddenly, amidst that same blank sky, where the heat waves meshed with the heavens, he beheld a city floating midair. Fearing hallucination, he blinked several times, but the image remained. Shielding his brows with his hands, he squinted harder, trying to comprehend whatever it was he was seeing. The streets of this city were paved with gold, and the architecture resembled the buildings of ancient Rome. Twelve huge gates, each guarded by two uniformed elders on either side, marked the city’s entrance, and hovering slightly above each elder’s head were miniature angels, forty-eight in total, fluttering, like hummingbirds, without moving. A gigantic tower stood in the middle of the city with twin bells in the top, swaying in opposite directions and emitting soprano and alto tones to the melody of “Lily in the Valley.” TL had never seen anything so majestic. He would’ve cried if he hadn’t been overwhelmed. The more he blinked, the clearer he saw this city made of gold. There were no people or life of any kind that he could discern. Only buildings and flowers too perfect to be real. Then, slowly, like a whiff of smoke, the image faded and vanished into thin air.
For a moment, TL stared into empty space, breathless. What the hell was that? Then, as he looked about in stark confusion, his breathing returned, sharp and labored, as if he’d run a marathon. Am I losing my mind? He blinked continually, like one recovering from a trance, searching desperately for clarity he couldn’t find. Nothing of the sort had ever happened to him before. He didn’t even believe in stuff like that! “Is God trying to tell me something?” he mumbled, glancing once more into the heavens. Already nervous about returning home, he thought the last thing he needed was yet another conundrum.
So, unable to glean meaning from the moment, he dismissed the vision as a psychological reaction to heat and hunger, and approached the Meetin’ Tree exhausted and frustrated. Uncle Jesse Lee stopped playing.
“What’s the matter wit’ you, boy?” He held the harmonica slightly away from his mouth. He had to be at least eighty now, having buried half his children and retired when TL was a small child. “I thought you left here today?”
“I did,” TL huffed, frowning from the glare of the sun. “At least I tried to. But I didn’t get very far.”
Uncle Jesse Lee nodded. “I understand. Sometimes it takes a man a while to figure thangs out. You’ll get it.”
TL stared across the distant field. “I’m okay. Just … confused, I guess.”
“Naw, you ain’t confused. That ain’t the look o’ confusion.” Tobacco juice splattered onto the dusty earth. “You might be wonderin’ ’bout somethin’, but you ain’t confused. I see it in yo’ eyes. That wild look. That’s not confusion.” Uncle Jesse Lee laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Life.” He blew a blues bar on the harmonica. “Been a long time since I seen a young man stumblin’ ’round so. Sorta reminds me o’ myself when I was yo’ age.”
“Really?”
“Yep. Had a wife and five or six kids, and didn’t know how I was gon’ feed ’em. It was the dead o’ winter.”
“That’s pretty rough.”
“Naw, it wasn’t pretty rough—it was rough as hell. Cold as the dickens. But we made it.”
In TL’s silence, Uncle Jesse Lee crooned, off-key,
Walkin’ ’round the world
Then bl...
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Tommy Lee Tyson (Book 2)
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (December 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312582684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312582685
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,468,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first time I read a Daniel Black novel was in May 2010,Perfect Peace, and was blown away by the original story line and the characters that felt like people I know, so much so that I ran out and bought copies for my family and friends so we could discuss. Immediately I purchased his other work and found that They Tell Me of A Home was one of the most touching books I had read. To place the icing on the cake, I met Mr. Black at a literary function and was amazed by his kindness, eloquence and humor and more than thrilled to know he was writing the follow up to They Tell Me of A Home.

It took more than a year to get my hands on Twelve Gates to The City and I must say I was not disappointed. I read the book slowly, savoring every word because I did not want to miss anything. I was entranced from the start and loved the way the story was told from the viewpoint of Dr. Tommy Lee Tyson, better known as T.L. and his Sister, who had died, quite mysteriously.

T.L. has returned to Swamp Creek Arkansas after ten years away and has earned a PHD, he is now in the small town and planning to teach at the local elementary school. Though, this is not what he planned, he knows it is what he must do to survive. He is also interested in finding out how his beloved sister died. What he does not anticipate is how much he will learn and how it will transform his life and the lives of those close to him.

I love the way Mr. Black slowly exposes us to the relationships, the painful one between a mother and son, the renewing one between a teacher and student and more importantly the two selves at war within T.L. He does not try to give us tidy answers, but allows us to see the whole person and their struggles and demons.
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I am so thankful! Thankful to Daniel Black for giving a voice to southern/rural black folk....cause country AIN'T crazy! This book does so many things one of which is call me out on my self- absorbed ways. It speaks to my soul and my consciousness and brings greater awareness to my thoughts and actions. I am thankful to Dr. Black and God for this gift!

I read Twelve Gates this weekend (started Friday after work and finish early Sunday morning). I am still in that place of reflection and contemplation. This book is so much more than a mere story book.......it is history, philosophy, African-American studies, self-help, religion, new age spirituality (which ain't hardly new).......wrapped in the package of a novel! This book called me out on my "ish" and makes me want to be the person God put me here to be.

"Twelve Gates to the City" picks up where "They Tell Me of a Home" left off. Only this time we get to see the characters from a slightly different perspective. We get to see who they are from their vantage point not just that of TL's. We get to see what perfect love looks like when coming from imperfect people.

This book is heavy with spirituality, Black southern traditions, and the importance of family and community. The characters are so real and vibrant you feel as though they are long-lost friends....or the strange family members you sometimes want to deny (you'll get that after you read the book).

PLEASE read this book! It has the potential to change your life.......or at least change how you view your life.
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Twelve Gates To The City by Daniel Black is the follow up to They Tell Me of a Home but if you haven't read it, you don't have to in order to enjoy this one but I highly recommend you read both.

Tommy Lee aka T.L., after getting off the bus just when he thought he was about to get away from where he grew up, is the start of an intriguing story that pulls you in page after page as he not only grapples with the past but with a cast of characters also come into view who as you learn more about them, help bring the story full circle.

Swamp Creek, Arkansas where T.L. is from has "secrets", from what happened to his sister, who was his birth mother and why is Cliffesteen the town "crazy". T.L. is drawn to his new life, wrestling with his decision to stay or leave and figure out how these "secrets" impact his future.

Stand out characters from the book for me were Cliffesteen the town "crazy" or was she? Dressed in black and always showing up babbling about some event she had witnessed. Uncle "harmonica" Jesse Lee quite the character passing out wisdom under the meeting tree, and Ezekiel, the young student that anyone who is a teacher can identify with, and who had his own drama at home that broke my heart to read.

Over all, I found this book to be for me the literary work we readers are searching for. I loved, loved, loved this book and will read it again and again. It was wonderful. Daniel Black is a STORY TELLER and if you miss this, well all I can say is, your loss. Did I say I LOVED this book..??!!!
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"WOW!" "WOW!" and "WOW!"

OK, now that I've gotten that out of the way, I guess I should act like I actually know how to articulate other words! First understand that I am truly a "read-a'holic." I read on average, 6 to 8 books per month; and I read "EVERYTHING!" My preference is African American Writers, but I enjoy other authors as well. I was first exposed to Dr. Daniel Black with his book, "Perfect Peace!" Not only did the story make me feel as if I knew and could relate to the characters, but the family dynamics were so believable and had you loving and hating them at the same time! Only a "MASTER STORY TELLER" can evoke so many emotions from his readers in one sitting and thqt is exactly what Dr. Black is!

My book club, "Spirit of Sistahood" brought Dr. Black to San Antonio in December of 2011, as the guest author for our City-wide Book Club Meeting; and that man left all 100 attendees "SPELLBOUND" with his character readings and his gifted singing voice! When I tell you that he left us with a feeling that we had just witnessed something unique and life changing.........BELIEVE ME! Not only did he sell out of the book Perfect Peace, but of 12 Gates to the City as well! Don't fret, he took orders and everyone received an autograph copy of their book of choice through the mail!

After reading Perfect Peace, I did not believe it could get any better.....wrong again, 12 Gates to the City was Intriguing, Exciting, Sad, Joyful, Aggravating, Funny, Unbelievable, and Humbling!!!!!!!!

I pray that these books make their way to the "BIG SCREEN" because the WORLD needs to experience these stories!

Oh, by the way did I say "WOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!:0)

Tamala Thompson
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