Ashes of disillusion, cinders of division
Author: Albert French
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Reviewer: Jo Nhlapo
The first page of this novel reads like broken English for a while. Then on the second page you realise it's just the way they do it in the southern states of the US . No impeccable Oxford English.
As you read further, the language grows on you. Then you realise the writer has a point to make here. Such freedom. Albert French narrates his story with great conviction and you are suddenly drawn into the characters' lives.
Rewind to 1938. The place is Mississippi and its ghettoes of Patch and Banes, two small towns divided by the Catfish Creek River. Patch is populated by a black community and on the other side of the bridge is Banes, where white folks enjoy more privileges.
Cinder is a young single mother who was born of black and white parents and lives in Patch.
She has just lost her teenage son to rough justice after he was accused of killing a little white girl.
He was sentenced to death and executed and Cinder is left to deal with the loss.
Dark phases of life take their toll - depression, loneliness, cheap labour and alcohol abuse. An old lover returns only for her to suffer another sudden loss when he is stabbed to death.
There are interesting characters such as Shorty, who sweeps at Mister Macky's store, then drinks his wages at LeRoy's bar. Shorty is in his 50s, but hasn't grown an inch since the age of six. He is the kind of guy who whispers any piece of news or gossip to the entire neighbourhood. There are also men who sit spitting outside the Rosey Gray and watch the world go by from their stoeps.
Harvey Jake is a newspaper man married to a young
pretty wife. He is focused solely on the news until he realises his mistake one morning when his wife runs off with a soldier.
These people's lives change suddenly when bombs are dropped on Pearl Harbour. The call-up for boys to fight in the war knows no colour.
Cinderis a story of a woman whose life has been torn apart by tragedy, and the portrait of a town divided.