Review: Natashia Deón’s ‘Grace,’ a Tale of Slavery, Its Ghosts and Legacy

By

From: The New York Times

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With her debut novel, “Grace,” Natashia Deón has announced herself beautifully and distinctively. Her emotional range spans several octaves. She writes with her nerves, generating terrific suspense. And her style is so visual it plays tricks on the imagination — did I just watch that scene? Or did I read it?

Ms. Deón is not merely another new author to watch. She has delivered something whole, and to be reckoned with, right now.

“Grace” starts with a murder on a plantation in Faunsdale, Ala. After years of watching her mother submit to supervised, ritualized rape by a fellow slave — it’s her job to breed boys for future sale — 15-year-old Naomi skewers her master with a fire poker. He’d just come to their cabin to announce that Naomi’s sister, Hazel, would be taking their mother’s place. For too many years, their mother had given birth only to girls.

The worthlessness of female lives is one of this book’s recurrent, and most excruciating, themes.

Naomi flees, runs for miles, and finds sanctuary of a kind in a Georgia brothel, where Cynthia, the proprietress and madam, delights in her good luck at having found a source of free labor. The two develop an exceptionally complex relationship. But at 17, Naomi must flee again — this time heavily pregnant with the child of a white man, a cad with a gambling habit who she’d quite wrongly assumed had loved her. She gives birth on the lam and is shot dead by bounty hunters just moments later. But her baby daughter survives.

“Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead Negro’s grief,” Baby Suggs says in the opening pages of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” Naomi is one of those many, many ghosts. She narrates her entire story from beyond the grave, both in “flashes” — relived key moments of her life, up until her own murder — and as a hovering, melancholy presence, anxiously following the jagged contours of her daughter Josey’s life as she grows up and starts a family of her own.

Josey: Beautiful, blond, originally adopted by a wealthy white woman named Annie. And then: Disowned, banished to Annie’s fields, buffeted by the same implacable currents that roiled the lives of all slaves. Read Rest of Review Here

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