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A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a massive funnel cloud flashing a giant fireball and roaring like a runaway train careened into the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people, not counting an unknown number of black citizens, one-third of Tupelo's population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.
When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung by the terrifying winds into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family - her hardworking husband, Virgil, her clever 16-year-old granddaughter, Dreama, and Promise, Dreama's beautiful light-skinned three-month-old son.
Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs' dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she's found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him.
During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them. Drawing on historical events, Minrose Gwin beautifully imagines natural and human destruction in the deep South of the 1930s through the experiences of two remarkable women whose lives are indelibly connected by forces beyond their control. A story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race, Promise reminds us of the transformative power and promise that come from confronting our most troubled relations with one another.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Asheley on 03-15-18
Compelling and character-driven.
I rated this a 4.5/5 on Goodreads.
Promise is excellent. It is compelling and character-driven. I had heard of this particular tornado in Tupelo, Mississippi but I wasn't aware of all of the details in its documentation - with the falsifying of the casualty reports (Because that's what it was, right? Failing to include an entire race of people on official records was essentially falsifying records.) and with the way the recovery and relief efforts were handled. The author clearly researched extensively for this book and the result is a story that captivated me and left me speechless for a while after it ended.
There are two POVs: Jo and Dovey. Jo is a young white female from a wealthier, more prominent family in Tupelo. Dovey is an older black female who is employed by Jo's family. Dovey has worked for Jo's family for many years and their families are connected in ways that have never been fully realized nor resolved. In the tornado's immediate aftermath, these two families become even more enmeshed and eventually their stories come full circle.
Be aware up front that this story is a little bit slow to start. In the first couple of chapters, I hit rewind a couple of times because my mind wandered. (Hence, the 4.5/5 on Goodreads) There is some set-up and backstory, and I couldn't help losing focus a little bit. It took me a couple of chapters to really feel like I had a grasp on Dovey and Jo - but by the time the tornado hits, I felt like I was getting to know them pretty well. A slow burn in this instance was a good thing, I think; I got the chance to get to know these women very well, which came in super-handy when they both were under a ton of stress and made some questionable decisions. I understood them better, or at least why they said/acted certain ways. I also felt very connected to them throughout the story, which was pretty important to me since they were from two totally different worlds.
Sometimes I shock myself with my own ability to be surprised by racist acts. Here, in some of the instances of actual rescue or aid workers providing medical treatment to people with severe injuries - well, I should not have been surprised given the setting and the time. I 100% appreciate that I was able to be transported to this time in history through this story, though. I cannot remember reading an account of a disaster and relief operation like this one during the early 1930's and I think that by participating in this audiobook listen, I learned some things.
The big plotline in the book involving the baby - whoa! I don't want to spoil anything here, but this is another place where the story involving these two families and their connections comes well into play, and it just pays off to have a firm grasp on these characters.
Southern historical fiction is absolutely my thing and this was a fantastic read. I enjoyed spending the time with Jo and Dovey, and I appreciate seeing the world at that time thru their eyes - especially Dovey, who tells her story with an honesty that touched me. Adenrele Ojo's narration added so much to her character; she just made Dovey more robust for the listening, There were times when I felt like Dovey was talking directly to me. Jo's parts were good too, but it was Dovey's POVs that stood out to me in terms of narration.
I recommend Promise for readers that enjoy a nice Southern-set slow-burn story with great character development. I spent one of my credits on this one and would listen to it again.