Books, Historical Fiction

Book Review – The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

This debut novel, by Ayana Mathis, was on the NPR list of best books of 2013.  It was also an Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.  This latter tidbit did not sway my decision for reading this book, I have read some duds that were Oprah Book Club selections, and so chose this based on the NPR selection alone.

However I chose the book, I am extremely glad I did. It was written so well – it was almost as if I could hear the narrator telling me the story of Hattie Shepherd and her eleven children.  Hattie has twins very young, and sadly, these twins die of pneumonia before reaching their first birthday.  Whether this event marks (or mars) her relationship with the rest of the her children, or if it is just her way, the reader is left to wonder.

Hattie has nine more children. Each chapter is focused on one child (well, there are two chapters about two children, whose lives are interwoven so much the story would diminish if you tried to tell half of it).  The children call Hattie “The General” behind her back – thinking she is not aware of this nickname, but she knows.  Even though the book is technically about the children, Hattie’s life is revealed in these pages.  A life that is tragic and courageous.

I believe the voice of Hattie is the voice of thousands of women who suffered as she did, especially in the war-torn turbulence of the early- and mid-twentieth century.  The language is simple and beautiful.

I read many reviews about this book, and people either loved it or hated it.  I loved it, I thought it deserved to be on the NPR best of list, and should have won another award or two.


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