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.
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?