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  • Writer's pictureLynda LeVan

Memphis - Book Review

Tara M. Stringfellow's captivating debut novel, Memphis, follows the complex story of 3 generations of black women. The North family faces head on the regret, trauma, tragedy, poverty, gang violence, domestic abuse, sacrifice and heartbreak that so often plague Southern black women-- and the consequences on the generations that follow. Stringfellow blends fact and fiction, as the story of the North family takes places amidst the background of significant historical events, such as the civil rights movement and the 2001 9/11 attacks, and the first-hand experience of racism in the South.

Stringfellow articulates the difficulties of generational trauma by weaving through time and narrators, giving each woman in the North family--Hazel, August, Miriam, Joan, and Mya-- their own voice. While the story does include the stories and experiences of the men in their lives, Memphis is unabashedly written by, about, and for women. Each individual personality of the characters shine through in their respective chapters, from August's attitude to Miriam's fierce protectiveness, the women of the North family charm readers just as much as they do their fellow characters. You come to cry with August over her son, pray with Miriam as she puts herself through school, cheer for Joan as she harnesses her artistic passions, and care for Mya as she navigates such a harsh world so young.

Stringfellow's story building and prose is a force to be reckoned with, and she writes about Memphis with such love and attention to detail, by the end it is nearly impossible to not be immersed in the culture. If a novel could ever be described as a love letter to Memphis, this may be it. Her descriptions of sprawling trees, the inside of August's salon, and the slowness of spending a day on a hot front porch, transport you entirely into the North family's world. Every side character is just as memorable as the last, and a beautiful, culturally rich world is expertly displayed through Stringfellow's writing.

This novel was beyond difficult to read at times, and that's not a bad thing. Stringfellow writes for the tragic truth of the black experience-- so much death, racism, tragedy and loneliness. However, that is not where she stays. The novel is not about tragedy, it is about the power of sisterhood, of growth, of family, of black love, of believing in God-given talents, of understanding, and of community.

“The anger I had felt for years at my father was what I had had instead of him. It was all I had of him. So, I carried it with me always, like a rose quartz in my palm. And it was slowly disappearing, my quartz. Growing tiny. I was hardly feeling the rough edges of it anymore. I realized, as time passed in the kitchen, the grandfather clock in the parlor having sung its swan song three times now, that love was wearing me down. Love, like a tide, just washing over and over that piece of rock. And I believed that only God—and maybe Miss Dawn—could change a tide.”

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