The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

20170211_183318Author: Ayana Mathis

My Take:

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie takes us through the lives of Hattie, her husband, their 11 children and later on, her granddaughter. Hattie is a woman of few words. She is strong-willed and “mean as the dickens”, as her children would say. She’s strong because she has no other choice. Of course, she loves her children but tenderness and affection wasn’t something she dished out often, if ever.  Hattie has 11 children-two of which she had to bury when she was a young mother and that’s a pain that never left her.

Hattie’s own mother brought them to the north to move away from certain troubles plaguing the south, only to find that life in the north didn’t always mean a trouble-free existence.

Although Hattie is a cold woman, you can’t help but feel sad for her. She is deeply unhappy with the life she leads and spends her days doing her best to keep her nine living children dressed, fed, and with a roof over their heads. Her husband contributes to her unhappiness so much that she refers to him as her “ruin”.  Every character in the book is fighting their own demons and you see them struggle to make sense of what their lives have become. Author Ayana Mathis does a phenomenal job of developing each of these characters individually so that you’re drawn into their separate worlds.

I think a lot of readers will be able to relate to Hattie having to put on a brave front even if she’s falling apart on the inside. She’s so hard on her children and husband, especially, because she wants more for their lives and she wants her husband to want that too, or at least not hinder her from making that happen. The resentment that grows between them can definitely be felt.

At the end of the book you’re left hoping that everyone ends up finding their way. The story and the writing, in my opinion, were thoughtfully crafted and I hope you get a chance to read it.

If you have already read it, I’d love to hear what you thought of it. Share in the comments.



20170211_182554-1Author: Margo Jefferson

My Take:

“…Negro privilege had to be circumspect: impeccable but not arrogant; confident yet obliging; dignified not intrusive.”

I personally find vintage lives of the Black bourgeoisie – inside “the bubble” fascinating. Even if you don’t, this book is more than that. The juxtaposition of wealthy, educated Blacks still being regarded as less than in most circumstances is something that was, and continues to be very real. In the past, you weren’t fully accepted into White
society but you weren’t fully accepted into the Black folds of those who couldn’t enjoy the same luxuries you did. It seems to have been like being on a Black bourgeoisie island. It’s interesting to peek into the world of this often-unknown area of Black life.

What it must have been like to have the same, if not more, wealth and education as your white counterparts and still be viewed as second class citizens. Wealth did not necessarily serve as protector from the harsh realities of racism.  It doesn’t seem like much has changed in that sense.

I would imagine it to be mentally exhausting to exist in this bubble of privilege, yet outside of it you have white people who resented your success, and less privileged Blacks who found you “socially inept due to an excess of white-derived manners and interests.” Life inside the bubble wasn’t necessarily easier either. You had to deal with evaluations of your skin shade, physical features, and hair texture which were all important markers in upper class Black society.

For me, this book was an insightful look into different worlds and the journey to navigate the two as well as have them live side by side. Margo offers her personal experiences in context with what was happening in society during that time. It was thought-provoking, and I thank Margo for sharing her memoir with us.