BOOK: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie - Ayana Mathis

By admin
24 April 2013

Endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, this debut novel was a runaway bestseller.

Rated: 3/5

The sticker on the cover even quotes Toni Morrison saying she’d never been moved in “quite this way” by a book.

So it was with great anticipation I picked up The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. And yes, it does move you. Never more so than in the first chapter where a teenaged Hattie tries to save her twin babies, only to lose them eventually to pneumonia “in the order in which they were born”. The older Hattie we encounter over the next decades features only as a background character in the stories of her nine subsequent children and one grandchild, each of whom gets their own chapter.

These stories are harrowing, mirroring the history of the American South in their portraits of infidelity and jazz clubs, mental illness and Vietnam, uppressed homosexuality and charismatic churches. What is missing, unfortunately, is a thread that binds everything together. We never quite know why Hattie turned into a Mother Dearest from hell. And even though all the siblings grew up together in too small a house, everyone seems to exist in a bubble, aware only of his or her own tragedy.

– Elmari Rautenbach

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