A Washington Post Notable Book of 2016
"Simply miraculous...As her saga becomes ever more spellbinding, so does the reader's astonishment at the magic she creates. Read more...
A Washington Post Notable Book of 2016
"Simply miraculous...As her saga becomes ever more spellbinding, so does the reader's astonishment at the magic she creates. This is a story about the triumph of the human spirit over bigotry, intolerance and cruelty, and at the center of The Book of Harlan is the restorative force that is music."
"Another one of Bernice L. McFadden's masterpieces...McFadden took me on a melodious literary journey through time and place--complex, real, beautifully raw, and necessary...McFadden's prose lingers, giving me courage to stay committed to telling authentic stories that, while revealing of unspeakable truths, serve to unite us all."
"I've finally discovered a writer I should've been reading for years ...McFadden has a gift for placing her characters into the vivid history swirling around them, but keeping their emotional experience front and center in the story. There's a Zora Neale Hurston sensibility to the way she does that."
--MPR News, Kerri Miller's Must-Read
"McFadden's writing breaks the heart--and then heals it again. The perspective of a black man in a concentration camp is unique and harrowing and this is a riveting, worthwhile read."
"The Book of Harlan is an incredible read. Bernice McFadden...has created an amazing novel that speaks to lesser known aspects of the African-American experience and illuminates the human heart and spirit. Her spare prose is rich in details that convey deep emotions and draw the reader in. This fictional narrative of Harlan Elliot's life is firmly grounded amidst real people and places--prime historical fiction, and the best book I have read this year."
--Historical Novels Review, Editors' Choice
"McFadden packs a powerful punch with tight prose and short chapters that bear witness to key events in early twentieth-century history: both World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Migration. Partly set in the Jim Crow South, the novel succeeds in showing the prevalence of racism all across the country--whether implemented through institutionalized mechanisms or otherwise. Playing with themes of divine justice and the suffering of the righteous, McFadden presents a remarkably crisp portrait of one average man's extraordinary bravery in the face of pure evil."
--Booklist, Starred review
"Through this character portrait of Harlan, McFadden has constructed a vivid, compelling narrative that makes historical fiction an accessible, literary window into the African-American past and some of the contemporary dilemmas of the present."
"McFadden's impressive achievement offers us a window into the often very difficult lives of African Americans from the Jim Crow era up to the present--and, unexpectedly, in wartime Germany. Highly recommended for showing us that however badly black citizens have historically been treated, black lives matter."
The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan's parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he eventually becomes a professional musician. When Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are invited to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre--affectionately referred to as "The Harlem of Paris" by black American musicians--Harlan jumps at the opportunity, convincing Lizard to join him.
But after the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald--the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany--irreparably changing the course of Harlan's life. Based on exhaustive research and told in McFadden's mesmeric prose, The Book of Harlan skillfully blends the stories of McFadden's familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-04-11
- Reviewer: Staff
McFadden (Gathering of Waters) centers this novel on Harlan Elliott, a musician who faces extreme hardship. The book begins in 1917 in Macon, Georgia, where Emma grows up with her friend Lucille, and eventually meets her future husband, Sam. Emma and Sam conceive Harlan and shuttle to different cities so Emma can attempt to follow her dreams of being a musician; Harlan is raised by his grandparents until his grandfather, a respected minister in Macon, dies. He is then taken by his parents to be raised in Harlem and mentored by Lucille, a successful blues singer who somewhat recalls Alberta Hunter. Harlan finds women, music between a guitar's strings, and marijuana during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s. As he begins to gain attention as a musician with his friend Lizard, they are invited to perform in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre as tensions are rising in Europe. Unfortunately, bad timing and naïveté lead to Harlan and Lizard being thrown into Buchenwald, one of Germany's concentration camps. After Harlan faces the horrors of Buchenwald, his life becomes a series of struggles, not just in Germany but back in America as well. Through this character portrait of Harlan, McFadden has constructed a vivid, compelling narrative that makes historical fiction an accessible, literary window into the African-American past and some of the contemporary dilemmas of the present. (May)