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When novelist Bertice Berry set out to write a history of her family, she initially believed she’d uncover a story of slavery and black pain, but the deeper she dug, the more surprises she found. There was heartache, yes, but also something unexpected: hope. Peeling away the layers, Berry came to learn that the history of slavery cannot be quantified in simple, black-and-white terms of “good” and “evil” but is rather a complex tapestry of roles and relations, of choices and individual responsibility.
In this poignant, reflective memoir, Berry skillfully relays the evolution of relations between the races, from slavery to Reconstruction, from the struggles of the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power 1970s, and on to the present day. In doing so, she sheds light on a picture of the past that not only liberates but also unites and evokes the need to forgive and be forgiven.
Praise for THE TIES THAT BIND
In Berry’s first novel, Redemption Song, a contemporary love story unfolds as a pair of young strangers share reading the only extant copy of a slave narrative, the work of a woman who experienced deep love for a fellow slave and savage treatment from her owner. “When I named the evil slave owner,” Berry explains in this memoir, referring to her novel, “I gave him the name of the man who owned the [Delaware] plantation that my family had lived on.” Berry’s mother had told her that “Granddaddy said John Hunn was a good man,” but Berry met such reports with utter disbelief. Her memoir is an act of contrition toward “the man whose name I tried to tarnish” as well as a journey of self-discovery and self-education as she uncovers the historical Hunn–indeed, “a good man.... a Quaker who risked life and limb in the fight for abolition” and “the southernmost conductor of the Underground Railroad.” Berry weaves abolitionist history with autobiography (her single mother’s struggle to raise a family of seven children; her own finding “a way out of poverty through education”). Berry’s competently researched book, with its sprinklings of history, folklore and scripture along with a motivational thrust (“We are all born with a purpose, a journey that must be completed”), provide an accessible, readable introduction for others “saddened... that none of this history had been made part of my education.”—Publishers Weekly
Sociologist, motivational speaker and novelist Berry (When Love Calls, You Better Answer, 2005, etc.) digs deep to expose the roots of her family tree. In the introduction to this intensely personal journal of her life, the author admits to a major injustice in her debut novel (Redemption Song, 2000). For the character of an antagonistic plantation owner, she used the actual name of the man who had owned the plantation she was raised on in Delaware. Though her mother told her John Hunn was a good man she refused to believe it. Her memoir seeks to make amends to Hunn, an altruistic Quaker abolitionist and “the southernmost conductor of the Underground Railroad,” while concurrently presenting her family history, saturated with stories, lyrics, proverbs, literary quotations and sage words of spiritual inspiration. Berry praises the inner strength of her mother, a hard-drinking, pious single parent raising seven children on her own in Wilmington. Though they were “cold and poor,” she writes, their gloomy fatherless family life was leavened with laughter and an unshakable sense of reverence and hope. Determined to be educated and successful, the author also pined for love and married twice, once right out of graduate school and again for the sake of her children. She doesn’t dwell on the painful, tragic moments of her past, she writes, “so that we can move right on to the healing.” Berry also retraces the path of liberation of black people from the chains of slavery. The discovery of Hunn’s benevolent history offered her first taste of spiritual freedom. Following a great deal of research and introspection, the author has created a positive book that spotlights family bonding and personal emancipation. “When we remember our ancestors and their stories,” she notes, “we light a pathway for our own journey to spiritual, emotional, and intellectual freedom.” Berry continues to demonstrate an uncanny aptitude for weaving African-American history into entertaining, empowering stories both fictional and personal. —Kirkus