Published: August 9, 2016
Exquisite! Such a beautifully written piece of work, that it felt like poetry, both in the flow and the content. It has an ethereal dreamy quality and is full of rich metaphors.
I have been struggling with my review of this book, because whatever I seem to write doesn’t really do the book justice. It is such a unique beautiful piece of writing. The story begins with August, the narrator, returning by train to visit her dying father. She catches a glimpse of Sylvia, a childhood friend and memories come flooding back to her. The ethereal quality of the book has in part to do with the fact that the narrator is looking way back on an earlier part of her life; in part that she is remembering her childhood, one in which she could not comprehend or accept the death of her mother; and thirdly the poetic quality to the writing.
The idea that August thinks her mother will return and convinces her younger brother of the same, feels so honest, so real, so a part of how children really cope with the loss of a parent. Within the book, different cultural rites of death are mentioned reminding the reader that death is there, but not letting us know the actual circumstances of the mother’s death until later.
Once August arrives in Brooklyn with her father and brother, the father cages the children in the house worried about the dangers of the outside world. This backfires as her younger brother falls through the glass window injuring his arm in his attempts to watch the outside world. At this point, August and her brother are allowed outside to experience the world.
August reminisces about her female friendships from this era in her life. She had developed a close-knit group of girlfriends who become her “home, ” her family, and this allows her feel alive again, after feeling cooped up in their Brooklyn apartment. Together these girls feel stronger and braver. Their friendship gives them a sense of safety, of home, of togetherness that is lacking from their actual home environments. They grow into puberty together, date, experiment with sex. They confide in each other about things that they do not feel safe confiding to their own parents.
August’s mother’s words about not trusting female friendships keep echoing back to her. “Don’t trust women, my mother said to me. Even the ugly ones will take what you thought was yours.” August learns how this can be true as the friendships begin to slip and in some cases fracture. However, for a time, the friendships are a beautiful thing and allow the girls to feel powerful in a world where they are vulnerable, on account of being female, minorities and poor.
This reflection is of Brooklyn in the 1970’s in a neighborhood that is turning from white to black. While August finds comfort in her friendships, her father finds comfort in religion. It is a stunning look at this place and time period, the struggles these girls faced as they came of age and the hope and courage needed to face it. I highly recommend this to everyone.
Biafra – map
- Do you think August did not realize her mother was dead or did she just not accept it?
- Discuss the role of friendship in the novel.
- Discuss the role of religion in this novel.
- Discuss race relations in Brooklyn in the 1970s as described in this novel.
- Compare their Brooklyn to life as described in Biafra.
- Why do you think that August does not find comfort and hope with her father?
- Why does Jennie disappear each time her children return?
- Why can’t Gigi tell her parents about the soldier? Why does she think they won’t believe her?
- Did her mother’s prophecy about friendships become true?
- Discuss the ugliness of the surroundings contrasted by the beauty of the friendships.