A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It took a while to get to the top of the waiting list for this book, that I picked to read for Banned Books week back in October–good Lord, that’s been barely a month. It feels like forever, this Saturday after Shitstorm 2016 is finally over.
And once again, I am left stunned. For one thing, there’s the usual theme of this country’s ugly history of racial inequality being pretty much the only reason to challenge this particular book. And I know I sound snarky. Frankly, I like being snarky sometimes. After this week, when Donald Trump of all people has been elected President and hate seems to be the order of the day, after Leonard Cohen has left us, when my Niners still suck, I’m in a fine fettle of snarkiness. Racism, and the concept of banning books simply because they expose that racism, both beg to be snarked at.
Anyway. Snark over. What a book! This is the story of Grant Wiggins, a black teacher in 1940’s rural Louisiana, and his mission to help another black man, wrongfully condemned to die for a crime he did not commit, to walk like a man (in the words of Frankie Valli) to the electric chair. This is not To Kill a Mockingbird but something even more subtle: The mission is not to win justice, but rather to accept the injustice with as much grace as can be found. The writing’s power is in its simplicity and its clarity, the conversational telling of a story that seems like just another tragic story of bigotry and hatred, and it’s not until you close the back cover that you realize you’ve been thoroughly whopped over the head.
Bookshelves: banned-and-challenged, current-social-issues, literary-fiction, racism, southern-writers
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