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A debut of extraordinary distinction Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family In 1923 fifteen year old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia hoping for a chance at a better life Instead she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented  Hattie gives birth to nine children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave  She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives to meet a world that will not love them a world that will not be kind Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation Beautiful and devastating Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last—glorious harrowing unexpectedly uplifting and blazing with life An emotionally transfixing page turner a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream Mathis’s first novel heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction 


10 thoughts on “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

  1. says:

    Rating 35 starsAw hell How am I supposed to rate this? There's some powerful writing here but the structure of the novel prevents it from gaining much momentum Each chapter is devoted to one or two of Hattie's children and after they get that one chapter they're mostly abandoned for the remainder of the novel Each character has to be introduced and developed within the space of one long chapter never to be heard from again mostly once their time in the spotlight has passed Adding to the discontinuity are the long time gaps between chapters You get Philadelphia and Jubilee in 1925 followed by Floyd in 1948 then Six in 1950 and so on Instead of a novel it begins to feel like a series of interconnected stories with one or two characters binding them all together Hattie is the only character we can connect with throughout the entire book and often that connection is from a distance Does this mean I didn't enjoy the book? No Ayana Mathis is a mighty fine writer She seems to write from a place of understanding the hearts and minds of a people whose history offered them limited options often resulting in self destructive behaviors In 1923 Hattie moves to Philadelphia as part of the Great Migration when many Southern black people moved north hoping to escape abuse and poverty The absence of Jim Crow laws allows her greater dignity and freedom from fear but financial success eludes her Her husband is a hard drinking gambling womanizing scoundrel but she can't resist him in the bedroom So baby after baby after baby arrives Hattie is so busy just trying to keep them fed and clothed and out of trouble that she doesn't think to give them the warmth and affection they crave Each chapter shows how that life of poverty and apparent hopelessness infects each child with a certain poverty of spirit What Ayana Mathis does masterfully is show how removal from oppression does not automatically lift the feeling of being oppressed At the end of the novel Hattie observes Here we are sixty years out of Georgia a new generation has been born and there's still the same wounding and the same pain Healing takes than a generation and the work is still upon usThis has no bearing on the story but I found it interesting and effective the way Mathis uses references to food to illustrate the various skin tones She describes people with skin the color of liuid caramel clover honey milky tea nutmeg and cinnamon And Hattie who could have passed has skin the color of the inside of an almond I'm so pale that I practically glow in the dark but when I look at my skin it's not really white The closest I could get using a food reference would be the inside of a Yukon Gold potato Appetizing ain't it?


  2. says:

    After sticking with this book for five chapters I am giving up I don't typically enjoy Oprah's recommendations but this one has been so well reviewed The writing is good but it reads like a series of short stories about each of Hattie's children I would rather have of a plot None of the characters were relatable or likable to me especially Hattie I have no tolerance for a cold distant motherI concur with The Chicago Tribune's reviewOur great novelists give us fully rounded characters whose lives reflect the limitations the possibilities and the wonder of the times in which they live Mathis gives us a one dimensional portrait of their suffering and little else


  3. says:

    This is a beautiful and heartbreaking book It is a novel but it is told as a collection of stories all taken from the complex broken and vivid lives of one woman and her family over 4 generations Some have said it is a story of The Great Migration when Southern Blacks moved out of the South starting around 1915 and it is true that many of the hardships and struggles are representative of families migrating at that time But at its core this book is the story of one family and that family's uniue struggles both internal and external The stories are told with a poetic voice and although the jumps through time and context are sometimes jarring the careful words and vivid imagery keep the narrative grounded The stories are replete with drama but they contain such truth that by the end of the book I was responding as if they were my family with all of the love anger and remorse that that implies To me that is the author's greatest accomplishment here that she made these stories so real and so vivid that they became my ownIt was a tough sell for me at first because this book exposes all the pains of the heart It is a sad book at times unbearably sad and if you are looking for vindication or tidy happy endings then it is best that you look elsewhere you won't find them here But sadness and hardship are great teachers and as Kahlil Gibran wrote The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the joy you can contain That was true for me about this book and although the author does not show us many happy moments within these pages there is an understanding that we can only be this sad for people that we care about and for relationships that we cherish and because of the promise of joy maybe right around the corner or maybe here all along and we failed to notice itI could continue waxing poetic about this book but that would mean spoilers and rambling and it would keep you from going out and getting a copy and reading it immediately I will end with a thought from Hattie who in the book shares her favorite Bible uote from the Book of Job Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward When she is told that this is too depressing a thought she replies that it makes her feel like she is not alone And that too is the achievement of this book By recognizing our shared hardships the kindred sadness and grief in our lives we can also recognize the shared spark that keeps us going can see the possibility of continuing on in the face of impossible odds can see the beauty in just moving one foot in front of the other


  4. says:

    i have no idea how to rate this book it's beautiful in so many ways but it's not a book one likes so terribly painful maybe i'll write a review i have to recover first REVIEW 32313there is only one way i can make myself like not appreciate not admire not respect because those i already do like this book and it is if i imagine it representing the author's childhood in the acknowledgments she writes To the Philadelphia School for Girls for being a light in the darkest part of my life that would be her childhood now if i'm an author who wrote a book about the terrible suffering the befalls each of the nine children of a cold and distant mother and a drinking absent father and i went to great pains precisely to show how terribly fucked up each child of this couple is; and if in the acknowledgments i refer to my childhood as the darkest past of my life well it seems to me i'm inviting the reader to gather that i had a distant emotionally disconnected mother and an absent father and that this caused me unimaginable painthis goes hand in hand with the very forgiving portrayal of both mother and father who in spite of their glaring shortcomings are devoted to their children and love them albeit in terribly flawed and entirely inaccessible ways also mother's and father's personal anguish is contextualized they leave jim crow georgia and come to the north as it happens philadelphia full of hope and optimism hattie 16 is pregnant and soon gives birth to twins she clearly adores hattie and augustus 17 live in a rented home but have great hopes soon to buy a house that the twins are a seal of this promise is imprinted in their names philadelphia and jubilee at 7 months the twins catch pneumonia and die maybe they die because is 1925 and in 1925 babies died of pneumonia maybe they die because they would have died in 2013 too maybe they die because hattie prefers old wives' remedies to the medicines recommended by the doctor who knows philadelphia is cold philadelphia is humid philadelphia is not georgia this death marks the end of everything of augustus's ability to stand on his own two feet and keep on walking or hattie's capacity to be emotionally available to her children of a future of middle class living the rest of hattie's children's life is spent in hunger abject poverty emotional starvation and the distress of living with parents who are so embittered with each other they can't even be in the same room except clearly to have sex and make babies each child is marked by his or her own brand of misery one is schizophrenic the background is a background of dislocation in the south maybe hattie and augustus would have been happy the north is cold and unforgiving the north is lonely yet the south is intolerable unlivable and the children in their own ways all die i can make myself like this book only if i think that ayana mathis described her childhood otherwise i'll just have to settle for admiring it and hope that whatever demon haunted this young writer was exorcised in the writing of this book and the next book will have the same expertise and artistry and none of the deadly bleakness because this deadly bleakness broken only and with much welcome by a tiny rain of sun right at the end gives me nothing


  5. says:

    I heard an interview with Oprah and Ayana Mathis and was intrigued Although I've given this book 4 stars I would have liked to see connectivity between the characters The book read like a collection of separate short stories rather than a novel Each of the characters are sadly flawed with troubled lives different yet similar to their mother's I loved the picture the author painted of each of them Some of Oprah's comments were insightful but many were along the lines of oh I loved that paragraph So what? Why is her name part of the title? Ayana Mathis's talent as a writer stands on her own merit


  6. says:

    Going to read this despite the fact that's it's Oprah The Great Migration fascinates meWell that was depressing Not a single character to care about and this was NOT the Great Migration that I know about Not reccommended


  7. says:

    I read this late last year and at first I was gravitating towards leaving it unrated I thought I wouldn't be able to give it a rating that would adeuately express how I felt about what I had read Sure I liked the writing in some parts and I enjoyed some chapters than others but overall I couldn't say whether I liked or didn't like it hence my dilemma The author set up the book with each chapter being from the point of view of Hattie's children and while some worked some fell really flat My final decision resulted in two stars 25 really and I think that adeuately represents how I feel about it based on GR's system I was so exhausted when I was done and it actually took me awhile to pick up another book


  8. says:

    Allegorical novel about slavery and race Uses biblical references twelve tribes of Israel in the same vein as Toni Morrison Bleak But then Oprah loves her some cheerless storytelling


  9. says:

    This was a book that initially I didn't think I would appreciate as much hype as it was getting especially being chosen as an Oprah book club pick I devoured The Twelve Tribes of Hattie in 2 sittings and I can't remember the last time I read a book that I was as interested in This book tells 12 different stories all from the perspectives of Hattie's twelve children Each story had its own heartbeat and was perfectly shaped into a beginning middle and end Each story while told chronologically was not in the birth order of the children and made for an interesting dynamic that I was not expecting Mathis does a brilliant job of seemlessly tying these stories together to tell the main story which is Hattie's through the eyes of her children Most of the characters have major flaws and some of the stories rip your heart out and allow you to be grateful for the many intangibles that you have in your life Highly reccommend this one


  10. says:

    Is there a limit on the amount of love a parent can have for their child? If you have than one child is it possible to have loved your other children so much that you have nothing left for the others? Or is it just possible for life to beat you down so much so that you have nothing left to give your children except a place to stay food to eat and a determination to survive?I can't find fault with Hattie Shepherd Giving birth to your first children at the age of 19 in a new city can be overwhelming To find yourself giving birth years later at the age of 46 is surprising Then to turn around at 74 and find yourself mothering your grandchildren is not an easy road But how do you explain that to your children who only see you as cold and uncaring? Somebody always wants something from me she said in a near whisper They're eating me aliveAs you read you'll be caught up in the lives of Lloyd the musician; Six the wonder boy preacher; the high strung and insecure Alice who pretends her brother Billups needs her when in reality she's the one that desperately needs him; Bell who seeks revenge against Hattie when all she really wants is to know the secret joy her mother found once upon a time; and countless others Mathis dedicates chapters to the various offspring but their interactions as children aren't explored as much as they are as adults She wants you to see who they've become as a result of living in the houseI love the set up of the book It feels like a compilation of short stories that are loosely tied together with the only common thread being that Hattie and August have given birth to them With the exception of Alice and Billups we see very little interaction among the siblings once they leave home It's as if Hattie's lack of love spread to them and there's nothing that bonds any of them togetherPart of the great migration to the north I wonder how much of Hattie's coldness is a reflection of her surroundings While her husband August longs for the Georgia he remembers minus Jim Crow Hattie refuses to even speak its name Still you have to wonder if August lamenting over leaving the south is valid Would Hattie have been different would the children have had different lives had they been surrounded by paper shell pecans sweet gum trees gigantic peaches and neighbors whose names they could recite years later?