Nov 3, 2014

Four Spirits, by Sena Jeter Naslund

Another book club book, and a powerful one at that. Naslund grew up in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1960s and the Civil Rights movement, which is what this book is about. Taking place over two years, from the infamous fire hose-doused nonviolent protests of Spring 1963 to New Years' 1965, "Four Spirits" chronicles such horrific incidents as the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which killed four young girls, and Kennedy's assassination. Bombingham, as it was called then, experienced the struggle for civil rights violently, with beatings, lynchings, bombings, fire hoses, and dogs, a beautiful city ripped apart by racial prejudice and fear.

The book is broken up into very short chapters, each from a different character's perspective, but with young Stella Silver at its core. Stella's parents and two siblings were killed in a car accident when she was 5 (another iteration of the four innocent dead) and her aunts raised her. Engaged twice throughout the course of the book, and with love and sex close to her mind at all times, Stella is also uniquely unprejudiced - perhaps due to a Jewish mother - and takes a volunteer job teaching night school at the local black college for black high school drop outs. There is animosity on both sides, but the black and white teachers slowly become friends, amidst the despicable atrocities committed by Klan-supported white men. There were some parts that got a little too introspective for me, but then each section was so short that none of these parts were long enough to cause any real boredom or annoyance. It's a beautiful, powerful novel, and I eagerly look forward to the discussion our book club will have.

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