Review of book Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

Although it is fiction, Ms. Ibrahim has written a bittersweet slave narrative of the relationship between a black slave, Mattie, and the white child, Lisbeth, that she raised from birth.    It is a heart-rending story of people in dire circumstances who learn to survive.   The story could easily be true.

The story takes place a few years before the U.S. Civil War.    Mattie was a field slave who recently gave birth to her own baby, Samuel, but was forced to give Samuel’s breast milk to Lisbeth and give her son over for months at a time to Rebecca, a fellow field hand, who nursed Mattie’s baby, and her “grandfather” Poppy who carried the baby to Rebecca each day.   She only got to see her own son for a short time on Sunday afternoons and only got to see her “husband” Emmanuelle once per month when he came from another plantation.  Of course, Mattie is an unpaid, involuntary caregiver to Lisbeth.

Before being sent to the big house, Mattie slept on a palette on a dirt floor.   In the big house, Mattie slept on a small bed and wore a simple dress given to her by the housekeeper.   Mattie felt glass at a window and looked in a mirror for the first time in her life.  Slaves told time by the sun so Mattie couldn’t tell time by the clocks in the big house.  The yellow crocus is the first sign of spring and was one of the many signs by which slaves recognized the seasons.

The author digs more into the emotional and psychological consequences of this kind of “life”.    She only gives a hint of some of the horrors faced by slaves.   Mattie gets whipped by another plantation owner when her son who was sold to him and her husband run away to make a better life for Mattie and her new baby girl Jordan.  A black child touching a white child could get him killed.  Learning to read or teaching another black person to read could get a black person killed.

The author also gives a view of the white family’s plight.   They wanted to marry off their daughters to the most wealthy plantation owners that they could.  Lisbeth’s mother is one such daughter.    She is supposed to “sit still and look pretty”, have sex with her husband just enough to have children, put up with her husband’s need to have sex with young unwilling slave girls like Lisbeth’s maid, etc.

I enjoyed Ms. Ibrahim’s writing style which was warm and compassionate to all of her characters.   However, slavery will always be an uncomfortable subject.

Ibrahim, Laila, Yellow Crocus, Lake Union Publishing, 2014

Review written by Rosa L. Griffin


Review of book Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

In the animal kingdom, a powerful predator sniffs, listens, observes, takes his/her stance, and pounces on the weakest animal in the herd.  So, it is with humans.  Predators watch for their opportunities to find the weakest among the human herd.

Grace is a woman who, out of love, has given half her life for the care of her younger sister, Millie, who has Downs Syndrome and will soon be graduating from her special school.  Grace’s parents wanted to institutionalize Millie, but Grace fought to work and provide solely for Millie’s education and other expenses.   Although Grace traveled out of the country for work, she still led a sheltered life because she allowed herself no social or love life other than to take care of her sister.  This denial of life made her a target.

People like Jack Angel can recognize a person who would be weak to his looks and money.  He watches Grace and Millie in public and decides they will be his next victims.   He does the dance isolating them from the rest of the herd and pounces.  Jack could tell that Grace craved physical contact and love, which he held out to her like a last meal.

Jack put tremendous pressure on Grace to marry him after 3 months.   But, what happens when you marry a predator?   The worst horror of all is when the person you love turns out to be a monster.   Especially when the monster comes wrapped in love, money, talent, and beauty—all the things you would want in a future spouse.  But, pull back the wrapping and you have Jack Angel, a predator.

It’s like watching an accident while driving, but you just can’t take your eyes away.  By page 80, I was nauseous because I could see and “hear” the clues and feel the tension when Grace couldn’t.   Nor did she follow her instincts when things weren’t right.  It was hard to put the book down, but I had to keep breaking away to save my own sanity.

B.A. Paris has written an exquisite horror story from which others would do well to read and learn.  I liked Ms. Paris’ writing style in the third person from Grace’s point of view.   I also liked the way she entitled each chapter either PAST or PRESENT so it was easy to keep up with flashbacks.  This was an intense read.

B.A. Paris, Behind Closed Doors, a novel, St. Martin’s Press, 2016

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

Review of Jenifer Lewis’ book The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir

I always saw Jenifer Lewis as the strong, sexy black woman with the deep voice and the street smarts.   I never knew that she could sing and dance as well.  She has appeared in off-Broadway and Broadway stage, television, and movies.   Everyone has probably had a friend they would say is “so crazy”, but fun, until you’re around him or her long enough to see that something is not quite right about them.   Jenifer Lewis has shared her story identifying herself as that “friend”.  One who can turn you on or off in a heartbeat, lift you up or dismiss you.    But, you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong with that person.  They only half-realize themselves that something is wrong in their alone moments.

Through Jenifer’s fascinating show-business life, she hobnobbed with the famous and the infamous.   She fought causes like AIDS, civil rights, bipolar, etc.  She was in the front row when President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination.   She drops a lot of names in the book.  The question is:  Who does she not know?   Seems like she knew or has worked with everybody in the business.

As I read the book, I kept saying to myself as I’m sure people she knew also thought—when will she be satisfied with her accomplishments?  How far does she have to go to be content?   But, I found that no matter where and how much she was performing (throwing that leg up to the ceiling), she never felt that she had done enough to become a star.    When she was up during each performance, she had to come down with men and/or drink in order to get to sleep.  Jenifer found that she was addicted to sex and alcohol, and I would say also to performing.

Jenifer eventually found out that she was bipolar.    I have a friend who is bipolar, but my friend is opposite from Jenifer.   He is not outgoing and refuses to get involved with anyone.   He spends his time watching “reality relationship” TV shows (like Maury Povich and Jerry Springer) in which he says constantly that he will never date anyone because he doesn’t want to go through what those people went through.    I can see my friend in Jenifer otherwise.    Especially in his extreme mood swings— my friend is depressed about what he should be happy about and happy about little or nothing.

In the years dealing with the diagnosis, Jenifer was still up and down, but she had a goal to get well once she knew what the problem was.   I liked the book, especially in how she opened herself up to let you know the good and the bad that usually doesn’t come out until after the star has died.   Thank you, Ms. Lewis, for your honesty.

Jenifer Lewis, The Mother of Black Hollywood

Amistad, Imprint of  HarperCollinsPublishers, c 2017

Written by Rosa L. Griffin