White Nights, Black Paradise by Sikivu Hutchinson

Posted on

whitenightsblackparadisePublisher/Date:  Infidel Books, Nov. 2015
Genre(s):  Historical Fiction
Pages:  325
Website:  http://sikivuhutchinson.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

In 1978, Peoples Temple, a multiracial church once at the forefront of progressive San Francisco politics, self-destructed in a Guyana jungle settlement named after its leader, the Reverend Jim Jones. Fatally bonded by fear of racist annihilation, the community’s greatest symbol of crisis was the White Night; a rehearsal of revolutionary mass suicide that eventually led to the deaths of over 900 church members of all ages, genders and sexual orientations. White Nights, Black Paradise focuses on three fictional black women characters who were part of the Peoples Temple movement but took radically different paths to Jonestown: Hy, a drifter and a spiritual seeker, her sister Taryn, an atheist with an inside line on the church s money trail and Ida Lassiter, an activist whose watchdog journalism exposes the rot of corruption, sexual abuse, racism and violence in the church, fueling its exodus to Guyana. White Nights, Black Paradise is a riveting story of complicity and resistance; loyalty and betrayal; black struggle and black sacrifice. It locates Peoples Temple and Jonestown in the shadow of the civil rights movement, Black Power, Second Wave feminism and the Great Migration. Recapturing black women’s voices, White Nights, Black Paradise explores their elusive quest for social justice, home and utopia. In so doing, the novel provides a complex window onto the epic flameout of a movement that was not only an indictment of religious faith but of American democracy.

The Jonestown Massacre of 1978 was one of the worst mass casualties of its time. A large number of Blacks, after following leader Jim Jones to Guyana searching for a better life than what America had to offer, were directed to drink a poisonous substance to participate in what was called “revolutionary suicide.” Hence where the saying, “Drinking the Kool-Aid,” gets its origins.

In reading WHITE NIGHTS, BLACK PARADISE by Sikivu Hutchinson I know that the rise and motivations of this movement were far from “revolutionary.” Hutchinson’s book paints a clearer picture of the members of Peoples Temple, but in particular focuses on three fictional women who are the anchor of this book: Taryn, a lesbian who follows her sister, Hy, into the church; and Ida Lassiter, a journalist whose connection to Jim Jones serves her ambitions to expose his warped empire.

It also exposes the beggining of Jones’s obsession with the black church and Black people in general: at first their swagger and cool, but later, their plight, their oppression and their loyalty. He’s a riveting character, in the way one would watch a tyrant come to power, in the way he thinks his actions come from a righteous place.

The novel is a bit slow in the beginning as Hutchinson relays the back story of the Peoples Temple, but picks up steam once the decision to emigrate to Georgetown, Guyana is in effect. Then, the defectors and the Jones’ brown nosers are essentially at war to either turn away from the church’s mission or devote their whole lives to it. This is when the book comes alive in terms of character development because the hard decisions the members make set them on a course that’s difficult to reverse. There’s moments in the latter part of the book that made me cringe watching our Black brothers and sisters follow behind a false prophet, who had his own demons to exorcise.

“Who will save us?” is a thought that stayed in the back of my mind while reading as it seemed his members – many impoverished and neglected black folks – blindly followed Jones because of the promises he offered them about living in world where they wouldn’t be second-class citizens. He preyed on their troubles and manipulated them to leave for what they thought would be a better life. That sad message was conveyed effectively in the novel.

Hutchinson definitely did her research with White Nights, Black Paradise, and if you’re a historical fiction fan, or enjoy reading novels based on real-life events, this novel is definitely for you.

Reviewed May 2016

About Sikivu Hutchinson

Sikivu Hutchinson is an American feminist, atheist and author. She is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels (2013), Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars (2011), Imagining Transit: Race, Gender, and Transportation Politics in Los Angeles (Travel Writing Across the Disciplines) (2003), and White Nights, Black Paradise (2015). Moral Combat is the first book on atheism to be published by an African-American woman. In 2013 she was named Secular Woman of the year.


Descendants of Hagar by Nik Nicholson (Jan. 2014 Pick of the Month)

Posted on

descendantsofhagarpotmlogoPublisher/Date:  AuthorHouse, July 2013
Genre(s):  Historical Fiction
Pages:  398 pages
Website:  http://www.niknicholson.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

I’ve stated in a previous post that DESCENDANTS OF HAGAR was outright the best book I read in 2013. The reason why belongs to Madelyn “Linny” Remington, the heroine of this tale set in a fictional version of Zion, Georgia in 1914.

Linny carried away my heart in world that wasn’t made for modern women: where women are voiceless without a man; when marriage was an arrangement between a father and the man he chose for his daughter; where a woman’s only calling and accomplishment is to bear children.

And in this sheltered life stood Linny, treated like a son instead of a daughter, groomed to build and work beside men, and given a voice unlike her own wedded sisters who were expected to keep quiet. At 20 years old and unmarried, she could have been considered an old maid, but she never saw her worth tied into being betrothed.

Lambda-Medal2014

2014 Lambda Literary Award Winner From http://www.lambdaliterary.org

Underneath the way Linny’s expected to take on a masculine work ethic lies the heart of a woman. She can hunt and slaughter, but her favorite time is sitting in the women’s quilting circle, connecting with the grandmothers, mothers and sisters of Zion, relishing the women’s stories and lost dreams.

Nicholson creates Linny’s most significant female relationship with her great-great-grandmother, Miemay, who ensures Linny’s purpose wasn’t being someone’s wife. Miemay, an ex-slave and the only woman in Zion to own land and businesses (without ever learning to read), is highly respected as a town elder. This knowledge she passes on to Linny, slowly giving her control over her affairs. Whereas Linny believed she was following the wishes of the woman who practically raised her and spending time with a woman with more head smarts than five men combined, Miemay was preparing Linny to be self-sufficient.

There are so many layers to unravel in Descendants of Hagar, and Nicholson has done her research to tie them in a vibrant arrangement. Linny’s strong voice brings to life a woman’s sexuality in a post-Reconstruction era novel and all the challenges it brings – a single woman taking care of her own home without a man’s help, feeling slighted by her mother because of her unlady like ways, being treated like one of the guys but being left out of their conversations.

Family is also one of Hagar’s solid storylines, because Nicholson touches on just how important kin is to Zion, not only to provide a foundation but also to its prosperity. All of the work done in Zion, from the construction of houses, to picking cotton, to running the main store, is kept in the family, and working together has allowed them to be better off than many in the poor white towns surrounding them – but also creates worry about the next threat from will bear “strange fruit” in their own backyards. Linny’s relationship with family is tenuous, most especially with her parents and brothers, but the love from her sisters is her lifeline. Though they treat her with kid gloves at times, they depend on her, admire and envy her unencumbered life, and add such a great life to this novel.

And falling in love is aspect of Hagar that’s significant but not an overpowering part of the novel, which I enjoyed. I assumed there would be some romance, but I appreciated how Nicholson didn’t make it the bulk of this tale. The love between her and Coley is realistic of and fits into the context of the time. Coley means well, and I like how she allows Linny to think outside the box, but Coley is a piece of work. Just get to know her.

Descendants of Hagar is a potent story – somber, sweet, funny, uplifting, enriching – and Nicholson does a fantastic job of capturing this time period. She truly did her homework. This makes me even more excited for the sequel, Daughter of Zion, out this fall.

[rating-report]

Reviewed January 2014

About Nik Nicholson

In 2009, Nik Nicholson began research for Descendants of Hagar. She interviewed approximately sixty women. The research exposed the challenges of masculine-centered lesbians, including how they come to terms with and express their sexuality and gender roles. Descendants of Hagar is Nicholson’s highly-anticipated debut novel. It is the first novel of a two-part series, which includes the intoxicatingly beautiful, Daughter of Zion., scheduled to be released September 2014.

Nik is an artist; in addition to writing she is also a poet, a spoken-word performer, actor and painter.


Hush Now by L. A. Green

Posted on

hushnowPublisher/Date: Dog Ear Publishing, LLC, Nov. 2012
Genre(s):  Romance, Historical Fiction
Pages:  216
Website:  http://www.hushnowbook.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Right now, I’m fighting the urge to sing “Go Down Moses” in honor of HUSH NOW.

Here you have two women – one a white slave owner’s daughter, the other a house slave – who fall in love but can’t be openly together because of their stations in life. Author L.A. Banks presents Rebecca Montgomery and Ruth’s star-crossed love story, and the vivid emotions this kind of affection creates.

Written with spunk and a sense of humor, Hush Now is the novel about love that speaks only in whispers and late-night Shakespeare sessions. Their attraction blossoms through their love of literature, with Rebecca happily discovering that Ruth was taught to read, a secret they both hold close. After all, Rebecca’s plantation-owning father, Grafton, is generous to his workers but recognizes that “a happy slave is money in the pocket.” She believes her father wouldn’t understand the love she has for Ruth.

Ruth has to protect herself, as well. The society she inhabits looks down on her simply because of her skin color. The consequences of loving Rebecca would be far worse for her than owner. But the closeness they feel can’t be helped. How can they ever be together when the world tells them they can’t?

A combined effort by Bonnie Lee Harrison and Gleycia Green, Hush Now is a moving story, and the full cast adds a life to this tale. But make no mistake: L. A. Green’s Hush Now will anger, frighten and enlighten you. Reading it, I felt moved by Rebecca and Ruth, but more so connected with Ruth and her dilemma. The way she was treated by some didn’t sit well with me, but with a story about blacks enslaved for monetary gain, it shouldn’t. It should make you wistful.

It also should make you believe in love – and embracing love in spite of.

Reviewed April 2013


The Highest Price for Passion by Laurinda D. Brown (Oct. 2008 Pick of the Month)

Posted on

highestpriceforpassionpotmlogo

 

 

 

 

Publisher/Date:  Strebor, Aug. 2008
Genre(s):  Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages:  272
Website:  http://www.ldbrownbooks.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

The past comes back to haunt in Laurinda D. Brown’s fifth solo title, THE HIGHEST PRICE FOR PASSION. Beginning in the volatile pre-Civil War era, her latest novel follows illicit exploits of slaves and masters as their lives intersect in the most perilous ways. Several characters narrate the story filled with infatuations and horrors that arise during a time when blacks were no more than tortured servants for white masters.

The fiery tale begins from the eyes of Amelia, a slave who recounts her life and the terror she endured escaping her master. Amelia, born from a white mother and slave, grew up knowing she wasn’t like the other workers around her. Yet because of the time and place she inhabited, she had to keep the appearance of being like the other black folks around her. One night her lineage is discovered, and it eventually leads to her disappearance.

But Amelia’s roots trace back far before her birth, tied to a shaky family tree with unspeakable secrets. Passion explores her heritage from her descendents and to a host of other characters from three generations ago – ones whose desires lead them to destructive behavior. There’s Massa Gray, who after years of rumors, can’t deny his attraction to the male form, including his own slaves; McKinley Wellsworth, whose notoriety as a hard-nosed master, is essentially a product of his tortured upbringing; and then there’s her own father, Josiah, whose attraction for Amelia’s mother couldn’t be contained and produced a love child he had to abandon.

Amelia, as she tells her life story, is aware of the passions that consume those around her, including her master and mistress. Both have strong connections to the beautiful slave, and she’s treated somewhat better than other blacks on the plantation. But Amelia knows her destiny and that there’s something more out there for her than a life of servitude.

Brown has a tackled a novel with historical significance with Passion, a book worlds apart from the contemporary novels she’s written such as Fire & Brimstone, UnderCover,Walk Like a Man and Strapped. The drama is still there, only from an earlier time and place. Brown has done her research with this story, and offers something different for black lesbian readers with Passion, a tale we should read not only for its compelling subject matter, but so that we can gain perspective with how far our race has come.

Reviewed October 2008