Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

I don't usually post book reviews here, but this beautiful and heartbreaking book is one that everyone should know about.

Set in the fictional town of Bayonne, Louisiana in the late 1940s. Two African American men, proundly different, are both struggling to be men in a racist society.

Uneducated Jefferson witnesses the murder of a white storekeeper during a robbery. The perpetrators are also killed, and Jefferson is put on trial for murder. In Jefferson's defense, his lawyer says not that Jefferson is innocent, but that killing him would be like slaughtering a hog. The all white jury is not swayed by this argument and sentences him to death in the electric chair.

Jefferson's godmother, who raised him, asks a black school teacher, Grant Wiggins, to visit Jefferson in jail and help him to face his death with dignity.

Grant longs to leave the South and is unwilling to take his task seriously. He really doesn't believe it will make a difference. After all, though he is well-educated, he still feels bound and limited by the same racist attitudes that resulted in Jefferson's conviction and death sentence. Eventually, however, the two men form a bond that transforms them both.

Heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. A MUST READ.

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