Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
You know those books you read while walking around the house? You're making coffee with one hand, holding the book with the other? Glad there was a snow day and the kids are going to school late and now you've got 2 extra hours to find out what these folks on Mudbound are up to? Yeah, this is that kind of book.
The book begins and ends at the same place - two brothers digging their father's grave. The middle is the story of how he got there.
The basics: Henry and Laura McAllan move their family from their comfortable home with lights and a flushing toilet in Memphis to a cotton farm and worn-down farmhouse in Mississippi. Their new land comes with sharecroppers and tenant farmers, including the Jacksons and the Atwoods. At the end of WWII, the McAllan's brother (White) and the Jackson's eldest son (Black) come home from serving in the Army. Their time in Europe has matured and changed their views and themselves. And neither is really prepared to return to their Southern home.
At the end of the story - I won't tell what happened in the middle, of course - your mind flips back, as Laura's does to wonder - what was the point that set these events into motion, reminiscent of a question in "The Shack". As in our own lives, you don't know how all the pieces fall together, which ones knock the next one over like a set of dominoes.
The story is about families, Black and White. But the issues in the book aren't all that way. Yes, there's racism which, at least for me, is a definite "wrong." And there's taking care of your family, a "good". But then there's - do you side with your family, even when they're wrong? Can you be a good person and exact revenge? Is it so easy, just not to mention a betrayal and hope it doesn't come up? But, as Laura says, its better if you begin and end it all with love.
I got caught up in the story and forgot, while I was reading the book, that the father dies. I was shocked when he did, then recalled they were digging his grave at the beginning. When you have finished the book, I urge you to go back and read the first couple of chapters again and see if you don't say,"ooohhhh, I get it!"
A few other things to consider....
- Jordan, a White woman, uses the "n-word" throughout the book, in dialogue by the White characters. Recently, there's been controversy about Q. Tarentino using it in his movie, "Django," set in the 1860s. Is it appropriate to use the "n-word" when historically accurate? Should authors/screenwriters temper the vocabulary for modern sensitivities?
- Often suggested as a restitution for slavery is "40 acres and a mule." I never gave much thought about the mule, but at one point in this story, the value of the mule is highlighted, illustrating the vast difference in potential income that the animal represents, and by consequence, the livelihood, lifestyle and hopes of the farming family.
- On the cover, there is an image - I believe its a bird reflected in the water. Interesting enough, I'm still figuring out the symbolism. But one day, I happened to glance at it and it appeared to be a silhouette of a man running. Hmmm.
I was drawn in by the story, but I was pulled by the subtleties of the characters' emotions. Jordan does a nice job of mixing in historical data (which I will presume to be true) of the 1940s into a personal story - I always like to learn a little something when I read.
Have you read it? What did you think?