Wednesday, November 14, 2012

MAKEDA by Randall Robinson

I almost stopped reading this book for two reasons.  For one, the writing is not to my liking at all.  The third page has a sentence that begins, "The girls were all but surpassingly proud."  What the heck does that mean?  Secondly, the book drags for at least 100 pages, as we get to know Gray, an African-American growing up in Richmond in the 50s, just as the Civil Rights movement is starting to gain some momentum.  Gray has a giant chip on his shoulder, and too much of the book dwells on the causes of his poor self-esteem.  He is a second-class citizen due to segregation and racial prejudice, but also has been made to feel inferior to his older brother Gordon.  His parents, particularly his father, have pinned their hopes on Gordon, who reeks of intellectual and physical prowess, but Gray's blind grandmother nurtures a spiritual kinship with Gray.  While in graduate school, Gray falls in love with Jeanne, and the two of them make plans to travel to Africa to research and validate his grandmother's dreams, which are really memories of a previous life hundreds of years ago.  I've always enjoyed tales of reincarnation, but this book ultimately offers a lot more than that.  The author succeeds, I believe, in his attempt to correct some misconceptions about history.  He points out that African civilizations during the Middle Ages were perhaps more advanced than those in Europe, especially with regard to science, government, architecture, and human relations.  I found this aspect of the novel very enlightening, and the author contrives a short-term rift between Jeanne and Gray that forces Gray to do some growing up.  He harbors a huge burden of guilt over the fate of his brother, and we readers are left in the dark as well, until the end of the novel.  I was disappointed when I did finally find out what happened to Gordon, not only because the incident was so completely predictable but also because it seemed out of line with the main themes of the novel.

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