Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Devil in America, by Kai Ashante Wilson, April 2014

In August 1877, Easter Sunday Mack is twelve years old, and about to confront the consequences of a choice she made when she was six.

In August 1877, the violence that has characterized relations between black and white in America for centuries is about to erupt in another massacre of blacks by whites, this time in the little town of Rosetree.

Easter's family, through her mother, has a history of magic, old African magic, but while they inherit the power, the knowledge of how to use it effectively has been lost. Easter's great-grandfather, when he was kidnapped in Africa and taken as a slave, was struck in the head and suffered brain damage, becoming simple-minded. He no longer had the knowledge of their heritage to pass on to his slave children in America.

And since that great loss, their power is a danger to them more than a blessing.

The central action takes place at a church picnic. There's a frame story of a father in the 1950s apparently advising his son on the telling of the story, and this frame places the massacre at Rosetree into the context other massacres and individual lynchings throughout American history. In the main story, there's a big black dog called Brother, and the slow revelation of the loss of all Ma'am's children prior to Easter. And we have a flashback to 1871, and six-year-old Easter's bungled attempt to help her father with the tabacky field, and her terribly misguided bargain with the devil to fix it.

This is a painful story to read, and I can't imagine how painful it must have been to write. It is, however, an excellent story, conveying experiences many, maybe most of us, are shielded from, and well worth the cost of reading.


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