What can be said of Paule Marshall? I was working at a bookstore in the 80’s and I saw this new book with a distinguished-looking woman of color on the cover. I thought, “Wow. What is this about?” We were allowed to borrow books as booksellers, so I anxiously wrote down my name and took it home.
It was called, Praisesong for the Widow. It was timely because I was living with my mother again, who had recently become a widow. This book took me on an unforgettable trip. Avey Johnson, the widow, needed a deep cleansing and healing after losing her husband of many years. She contemplated a European trip but after consulting her youngest daughter, she and a friend ended up going to the Caribbean, instead.
She put down her pretensions and really felt the earth move beneath her feet. She looked back over her life, her marriage and her role as a mother. For a short time, she left all of those roles behind and felt like the young woman she had once been. She wandered out into the rural parts of the village and ended up participating in a healing dance with the other elders. They shuffled their feet to shake off of life’s pains. She returned to the States with greater clarity. She decided to work with the youth in the community and hopefully guide them into making positive choices.
Fortunately, I was able to meet and chat with Paule Marshall at a literary event. I told her that I had taught her novel to a college class. Her eyes lit up and just as we were about to talk, we were interrupted. Oh well, it is called life in the big city; but her reaction was enough to let me know that she was pleased that her book had been selected.
Her other novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones, centered around the trials of a West Indian family that lived in Brooklyn. The daughter, Selina Boyce, resented her mother because she held her responsible for the horrible demise of her father. As immigrants trying to assimilate into society, they worked very hard to raise their social-economic status and to purchase the sainted brownstone.
While the mother worked very hard, the father continually came home smelling like other women’s perfume. She got tired of his escapades and had him deported. One would have to read the book to see what other shocking things happened to the father. Selina was unforgiving and did not understand her mother’s actions until she started dating herself. Then, she better understood the affairs of the heart.
Ms. Marshall’s family had roots in Barbados and her writings give us insight into the West Indian culture and their struggles to become a part of the American fabric. This great storyteller is sure to entertain any reader! Hats off to Ms. Paule Marshall!
Lynn March 16, 2015