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Delvin Walker is just a boy when his mother flees their home in the Red Row section of Chattanooga, accused of killing a white man. Taken in by Cornelius Oliver, proprietor of the town's leading Negro funeral home, he discovers the art of caring for the aggrieved, the promise of transcendence in the written word, and a rare peace in a hostile world. Yet tragedy visits them near daily, and after a series of devastating events - a lynching, a church burning - Delvin fears being accused of murdering a local white boy and leaves town.
Haunted by his mother's disappearance, Delvin rides the rails, meets fellow travelers, falls in love, and sees an America sliding into the Great Depression. But before his hopes for life and love can be realized, he and a group of other young men are falsely charged with the rape of two white women, and they're shackled to a system of enslavement masquerading as justice. As he is pushed deeper into the darkness of imprisonment, his resolve to escape burns only more brightly, until, in a last spasm of flight, in a white heat of terror, he is called to choose his fate.
In language both intimate and lyrical, novelist and poet Charlie Smith conjures a fresh and complex portrait of the South of the 1920s and '30s in all its brutal humanity - and the astonishing endurance of one battered young man, his consciousness "an accumulation of breached and disordered living...hopes packed hard into sprung joints", who lives past and through it all.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Paul on 04-14-16
Most compelling, mesmerizing in a long time!
Delvin Walker and his friends and companions come into vivid life as this unfolds. The white characters, with one partial exception, remain hateful racist cut-outs, as befits this story. Horrifying and frightening! I could not stop listening. Somehow Charlie Smith manages to end on a note which, if not happy or redemptive is at least not a total disaster, so that the listener is left with a small glimmer of hope.
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