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The Book of Harlan, by Bernice McFadden

February 22, 2016

The Book of Harlan, by Bernice McFadden.   Akashic Books (2016), 400 pages.  FORTHCOMING

4 stars

An unusual novel by an accomplished African American woman.

Bernice McFadden has written several novels of African American life. Often her books touch on themes seldom developed by other authors. In her new book, she follows Harlan, a man hardly typical of black Americans, through much of the twentieth century. Harlan was born in a small town in the South and initially raised by his grandparents, a minister and his wife. When he finally joins his parents in Harlem, they are living a comfortable life. His mother’s best friend from childhood has made it big in show business, and Harlan’s family move in and out a cluster of leading African Americans in the 1920s and 1930s. Harlan learns to play the guitar and is playing in Paris when German troops take over the city during World War II. He is captured and, because of his race, taken to a concentration camp along with his best friend. Harlan survives the camp but returns to the United States haunted by what he had seen and experienced there.

As always, I enjoyed McFadden’s novel although I uncharacteristically skipped part of her depiction of what happened to Harlan in the concentration camp.  I gladly recommended the book to other readers, especially those less squeamish than myself.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Akashic Press for sending me a digital copy of this book to read and review. Akashic Press has published other books by McFadden which I have read.  See my reviews of them below


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