The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis
Source – Amazon Vine
My Rating – 4 stars
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding The Twelve Tribes of Hattie as it is one of Oprah’s Book Club Picks and destined to be a bestseller as a result. So is the hype justified?
Hattie Shepherd is part of the Great Migration, moving from Georgia to Philadelphia in the mid 1920s, hoping for a new start in life. Aged just 17, the story of her new life begins with the tragic death of her twin babies, Philadelphia and Jubilee who had ironically been given “names of promise and hope, reaching-forward names, not looking-back ones”. Surely she has already had her share of tragedy but no, there is a lot more to follow as she gives birth to nine more children whose lives are equally imbued with sadness and it is these eleven off-spring plus one grand-daughter further down the line who comprise her “twelve tribes”.
There is much to weep about – a womanising preacher, marital difficulties, tuberculosis, gambling, confused sexual identity, mental illness…a diversity of dysfunctionality. In order to survive the harsh reality of her life, Hattie hardens her heart and gives the impression of having no love for her off-spring but you just know she would be there for them in their hour of need. Indeed this is more a story about motherhood than the Great Migration.
There are so many characters and the novel’s structure, almost a series of short stories/vignettes about Hattie’s children, unfortunately prevents a really deep understanding of characters and their motivation. Having said that, it is beautifully written and a very impressive debut novel.