Tag Archives: racism

An Hour Before Dawn: Memories of a Rural Boyhood By Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter’s narration about his childhood during the depression on a farm in Archery, Georgia – An Hour Before Dawn: Memories of a Rural Boyhood – is a charming autobiography which gives us a better understanding of our 39th President. I was impressed with Carter’s hands on work in all aspects of farm life, even as a young boy, and marveled at how the family survived lacking the amenities which we now take for granted, such as running water, electric lights, flushing toilets, and refrigeration. The simplicity of life required hard work and the hidden dangers threatened the life expectancy of the community. For example, it makes one wonder if the prevalence of pancreatic cancer in the Carter family might be connected with the arsenic they used as a pesticide. (At ninety three, Jimmy Carter beat the odds, although he recently had a melanoma which the doctors successfully treated).

While Carter has written numerous books, this one focuses specifically on the people who influenced his childhood, with a brief nod to his wife Roslyn, who grew up in the nearby town of Plains, and her support of his decision to move back to the farm, ending a successful career in the Navy to return to his roots.

Carter’s father was an industrious, hard working gentleman who carved out a successful career through his farmland, a concessions store, and various businesses, such as a sugar refinery, which provided the services necessary to make farming a self sustaining enterprise. While some landowners took advantage of the situation, Carter’s dad treated his workers fairly, and his integrity rubbed off on his son. One industrious sharecropper even saved enough to purchase a parcel of their land (which was eventually returned to the Carter homestead well after Jimmy’s father’s death).

Despite the respect Jimmy had for his father, it was the individuals who surrounded his life in those early years who shaped his character. He spent most of his time amongst the colored workers on the farm, with their children naturally becoming his best buddies. Carter didn’t realize the difference between the races, the separation by color in social situations was simply a part of southern living. He often slept over at the foreman’s house sharing a room with his son (who he considered his best friend), and it was Mrs Clark who taught him the moral lessons which influenced his life’s work.

As far as the title, an hour before dawn was Jimmy’s favorite time of day. A pleasant writing style full of humor and insights, I listened to the audiotape (an abridged version of the book) which was read by the author. Four stars.

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All That I Can Fix by Chrystal Chan

Squirrels falling from the sky, a ten year old stalker, problems with parents, and a friendship torn apart over a girl – these are some of the elements of the YA novel All That I Can Fix by Chrystal Chan. Yes, the Chrystal Chan who has adapted many old time favorites for the Manga Classics series.

Chan tackles numerous social issues such as drug addiction, mental illness, alcoholism, child abuse, runaways, suicide, racism, gun control, all wrapped up with the normal teen angst thrown into the mix. To push things up a notch, there is a group of dangerous wild animals on the loose (ones you normally only get to see in the zoo or on a safari) who are actually attacking and killing the local citizens.

This is Ronny’s story, told from his point of view and it’s full of anger. Furious at his dad who is suffering from chronic depression and anxiety, Ronny yearns for the days when he had a real father who actually participated in the family. Suffering the results of a gun shot wound from a suicide gone bad, Ronny watches his pop, the one person he used to admire, shuffle around in his bathrobe doing nothing except sleep and watch TV. With a mom who has to work long hours to pay the bills coming home spent and using medication to erase the reality which is now her life, Ronny has to pick up the mantle of adulthood and taken on the responsibility of the household. A fifteen year old still in high school, he does the home repairs which they can’t afford, watches out for his younger sister Mina, and, in his limited spare time, hangs out with George, the girl he worships from afar, and his best friend Jello, a photography buff. On occasion he even attends school. Oh, let’s throw into the mix the factor that Ronny is mixed race and has to deal with those who object to the shade of his skin. This is one bitter boy.

I can see this book as one of those after school specials for kids. There’s a lot going on and the melodrama would lend itself to a visualized format. From the reader’s perspective, it was difficult to empathize with such a rude, nasty teen who has a bone to pick with the world and doesn’t pull back the punches (at times quite literally). Yes, he has it rough, and yes, he does show some redeeming characteristics when dealing with the troubles of his sister’s friend Sam, but overall he’s a jerk (I had another word in mind but I’ll keep it PG). Since Ronnie is the person telling the story, his attitude tempers the entire piece, forcing the reader to experience his cruel attitude towards life, ultimately directed at his father. Not my cup of tea. As a minor annoyance, the “little” sister Mina, supposedly a genius, is actually ten, but treated more like a six or seven year old. I was actually glad when she ditched the orange ensemble and started dressing more appropriately.

This one showed potential, but it definitely needed some pruning of the subplots, an upgrade to the attitude of the protagonist, and additional depth added to the characterizations.

2 1/2 stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Celie’s life has been full of abuse since she was a small child. When her mother becomes too ill to satisfy her husband’s needs he turns to his preteen daughter, fathering then getting rid of her two newborns, and eventually farming her out to be the wife of another man so she can take care of HIS house and children. Once again, Celie becomes a receptacle, this time for her husband. Despite the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, she works hard and quietly accepts her fate, obediently doing what she is told. Her one moment of rebellion involves her sister Nettie whom she harbors from the leacherous attentions of their father. Nettie is sent on her way when she refuses the advances of Mister, Celie’s husband, but vows to write (unless she is dead). When after years of waiting and no letter is received, Celine assumes the worst, another blow in her lackluster life. Yet there are women who refuse to be dominated by men. Shug Avery, Mister’s mistress, becomes an ally of Celie, teaching her the joys of intimacy. Then there is Sophia, step son Harpo’s wife, who refuses to be bullied by any man, physically reciprocating the violence. This, of course, gets ugly when Sophia accosts the mayor after “sassing” his wife for assuming she would jump at the chance to be a maid for a white family.

As we follow the life of Celie we slowly watch as she finds her voice with the help of Shug, Sophia, and even Squeak (Harpo’s mistress). With her newfound independence many truths are revealed, changing her outlook on life. The story is told in “letters” at first beginning Dear God, then switching to Dear Nettie when Celie looses her faith in the Almighty.

Now what I’ve neglected to mention about the book The Color Purple by Alice Walker is that Celie is black, living in rural Georgia during the depression, so not only does this story deal with misogyny, but also the racism still prevalent in the south sixty to seventy years after the Enancipation Proclamation.

There are so many facets to this story, I can see why it won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. It’s raw language and unabashed references to sexuality has also earned it a consistent place on the banned book list.

While the depressing aspects of Celie’s life should leave us in a morbid funk, this is a story about the strength of family and friends, full of the promise that people’s attitudes and behaviors can change in a positive manner providing hope for a brighter future. It helps that I listened to the tape narrated by Alice Walker who brilliantly brought the characters to life. Little wonder The Color Purple provided a plot perfect for the stage and screen.

A must read. Five stars.