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  • Written by Bertice Berry
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A Memoir of Race, Memory, and Redemption

Written by Bertice BerryAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Bertice Berry


List Price: $14.99


On Sale: February 03, 2009
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-7679-3142-7
Published by : Broadway Books Crown Trade Group
The Ties That Bind Cover

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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.

Bertice Berry

About Bertice Berry

Bertice Berry - The Ties That Bind
Bertice Berry is the author of the novel Redemption Song and four works of nonfiction. An inspirational speaker, doctor of sociology, and former stand-up comedian, she lives in southern California, where she is raising her sister's three children.



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


“An inspirational tale.” —Ebony

“A folksy, feel-good little novel … sentimentally delightful.” —Publishers Weekly

“A nimble social commentator, Berry wisely eschews clichés and delivers a powerful story with a message that should not be lost.” —Essence

“In this poignant and educational ‘ghost’ story, Berry drives home the importance of making sure the richness of ancient Africa’s drums lives in the music today.” —Heart & Soul

“A simple love story to drive home the importance of understanding one’s history … entertaining but also enlightening.” —USA Today

“Compelling … thought-provoking … Filled with life lessons wrapped in mother wit and family lore.” —Dallas Morning News

“Comedian and inspirational speaker Berry makes a tear-tugging fiction debut with this slim romantic fable about connections across generations.” —Publishers Weekly
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. In The Ties That Bind, the author discovers a family story that changes her life. Are their any stories like this in your family? Ask your oldest living relative the following:
a) What was life like for you growing up?
b) What kind of child was my mother/father?
c) What do you know about your grandparents?

2. The author made a serious error in her first novel, Redemption Song, when she named the evil slave owner the same name of the man who owned the plantation her family lived on. What errors or assumptions have you made about your own past, and that of your family, and of this country? Have you ever painted your own past as black or white? How so?

3. In The Ties That Bind, Berry points out that the naming of African Americans was much more deliberate than we have previously assumed. How were you named? Who were you named after and what does your name mean?

4. Do you talk about race relations with people outside your race? What are the conversations like? What do you learn?

5. Slavery has had an impact on all Americans. How has it affected you?

6. John Hunn was the Southern-most conductor on the Underground Railroad. As a white man, he still understood the negative impact that slavery had on him. In today’s society, social issues like illiteracy, drug addiction, and poverty also have an indirect impact on all people. How have they affected you and what can you do about it?

7. In The Ties That Bind, Berry talks about the purpose of each individual. How do you define your own purpose? What do you believe you were born to do?

8. The author discusses the role of forgiveness. What do you need to be forgiven for? (If in a group discussion, talk about forgiveness on a more macro level, i.e., race, gender, etc.)

9. Have you ever been present when somebody died? What were their last words? How did you feel? How did you deal with the grief?

10. What lessons did you take from the book?

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