Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Wow. This is amazing book had me enthralled from the very first sentence. The writing is beautiful and the different perspectives of each character ( Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, Hap, and Florence) dovetail neatly together in this meticulously crafted story.

The book opens with the digging of a grave. Then we meet the characters. Laura, a teacher resigned to spinsterhood, who marries steady, dependable Henry, mainly because he's the only man who ever asked. Henry isn't a bad guy, but he's not very aware of his wife's needs. He buys a farm in Mississippi and springs it on Laura. Not pleased, city-born and raised Laura dubs the farm "Mudbound." Despite the fact that Henry's crotchety father comes to live with them, Laura makes peace with her lot in life, only occasionally letting herself acknowledge her wish for something more.

Hap is one of the sharecroppers who lives and works on Henry's farm. His wife, Florence, is a midwife. Both are strong, hardworking people who have struggled to make a better life for themselves and their children.

The real heart of the story, however, revolves around the friendship of two soldiers recently returned to Mississippi after WWII. Both are heroes tortured by their memories of the war; both feel like strangers in the place they once called home. Jamie is Henry's charismatic younger brother. He deals with his demons by drinking. Ronsel is the son of Hap and Florence. A gifted student, he was the first in his family to learn to read. He served in the 761st Black Panther Battalion, the only colored tank unit in the US army. It is especially difficult for him to get a taste of being treated like a human being, only to return to his "boy" status when he comes home.

Hauntingly beautiful and tragic. A must read.

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