Thursday, February 21, 2008

Book Review: Praisesong for the Widow

Praisesong is the first novel I have read by Paule Marshall. Through the course of my studies in African American Women's Literature, I have read various pieces of criticism by and about Paule Marshall, but I had yet to get around to her literature. I picked this book up two days ago (my bookshelves are filled with books I am anxious to read) and I have been enthralled from start to finish. As I read her work I was reminded of the experiences I had reading other books, such as Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. All these novels--all extremely moving and excellent fiction--deal with ancestory, love, and destiny--and how these three things are irrevocably intertwined. Marshall does a fabulous job of keeping her narrative focused and relavent, all the while creating a deep dreamlike environment for the reader to lose themselves and experience another world. I love reading books like this so much because they make me feel connected to the diaspora of humanity, with the universal nature of feminism, with empathy, with experiences that are not mine but that I can still connect to.

Praisesong takes the familiar situation that Lorraine Hansberry captured in her play, "A Raisin in the Sun," of an underprivilaged black family living in abstract poverty, and then finishes the story where Hansberry left off. What happens to us when we let our circumstances dictate who and what we are, instead of letting the most fundamental part of our souls thrive, no matter our circumstances, good or bad--rich or poor? Richard Wright answered that question for himself in Native Son, with a polemic that is intended to be at once terrifying and real. Marshall does not take up the same themes of overt violence, the "ego" gone out of control--but she captures something very powerful in a very feminine way.

I highly recommend this book. You would definitely like it if you like anything by Toni Morrisson, Zora Neale Hurston, or Gloria Naylor.
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