Family by J. California Cooper

From a cosmopolitan family are beget descendants who are stolen for slavery in the American South, bringing dear reader to Fammy, who begets Clora by a black man because she wanted a black baby for her own, after enduring her master’s rapes and the selling of her children. She takes her life, as does Clora, when she envisions the future of her daughter Always. Yet Clora persists as a spiritual entity, watching her family throughout their lives. This is the story of Always, unable to follow her siblings in their escape by passing for white, who rises above her veneer of subjugation, fully prepared to live free after emancipation. Clora witnesses her family branch out again across the globe.

Cooper explicitly presents the vicarious existence of slaves, and the various ways that could procure a safer passage, as well as the intricately convoluted familial connections betwixt white masters / mistresses and slaves. The hint of dialect bumps through both races, showing the blending of cultures based on proximity, and religion also bleeds across the barriers, represented by Clora’s routine references to the Christian God. This novel offers a valuable lesson in how the foundation for systemic racism was laid and on what our country was built, in spite of the whitewashed American dream. Read it with a careful eye toward the small references and unspoken understandings between characters.

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