Thursday, January 17, 2008

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

For me, this book falls into the "important but very painful to read" category. It was depressing, disheartening, and yet an important look at race relations in the south in the 1930s.

The basic story is a year in the life of the Logans, as told from 9-year-old Cassie Logan's point of view. She and her family live in Mississippi, north of Vicksburg, on a former plantation. Her family is different than the other tenant farmers in their area: they own 400 acres of their own land. It was a fluke: a Yankee had bought some after the Civil War and ended up selling some to Cassie's grandfather. Yet, it's the land -- and owning it -- that allows Cassie's family a measure of freedom that the other families don't have.

The interesting thing (to me) is that the other black families don't hold it against the Logans do what they can to help out their neighbors and work hard at making ends meet. It's the white people that claim the Logan's are putting on airs, getting uppity and the like. In the end, it's the land that both dooms them and saves them. (Which sounds ominous, I know, but really that's the way it happens.)

Mildred Taylor doesn't spare any one or anything. When Cassie disobeys, she gets whipped. She gets humiliated for just being black, and manages to get her "revenge". It's very much a world of get and try and give back. The children get splattered every morning on their way to school by the white bus going by (on purpose), and they take their revenge. Which sets off a chain of events. I think more than race relations, this book is about consequences. The consequences of choices, of decisions, of being black (or white) in Mississippi. There's a strong sense of family, too. The Logans deeply care for their children, wanting what's best for them. They are also concerned for their safety, navigating the difficult path of what's right versus what's best.

It was a very powerful book, one that I'm sure will stay with me for quite a while.

Cross posted at Book Nut.

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