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A Novel

Written by Pearl CleageAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Pearl Cleage


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: February 27, 2007
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-345-49704-8
Published by : One World/Ballantine Ballantine Group
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When Regina Burns married Blue Hamilton, she knew he was no ordinary man. A charismatic R&B singer who gave up his career to assume responsibility for the safety of Atlanta’s West End community, Blue had created an African American urban oasis where crime and violence were virtually nonexistent. In the beginning, Regina enjoyed a circle of engaging friends and her own work as a freelance communications consultant. Most of all, she relished the company of her husband, who never ceased to be a source of passion and delight.

Then everything changed. More and more frightened women were showing up in West End, seeking Blue’s protection from lovers who had suddenly become violent. When the worst offenders begin to disappear without a trace, the signs–all of them grim–seem to point toward Blue and his longtime associate, Joseph “General” Richardson. Now that Regina is pregnant, her fear for Blue’s safety has become an obsession that threatens the very heart of their relationship.

At the same time, Regina’s friend Aretha Hargrove is desperately trying to redefine her own marriage. Aretha’s husband, Kwame, is lobbying for them to leave West End and move to midtown. Aretha resists at first, but finally agrees in an effort to rekindle the flame that first brought them together.

Regina and Aretha have no way of knowing that what they regard as their private struggles will soon become very public. When Baby Brother, a charming con man, insinuates himself into the community, it becomes clear that there is more to his handsome façade than meets the eye. He carries the seeds of change that will affect both women in profound and startling ways.

Returning to the vividly rendered Atlanta district of her last two novels, New York Times bestselling author Pearl Cleage brilliantly weaves the threads of her characters’ intersecting lives into a story of family, friendship and, of course, love. Baby Brother’s Blues is full of wit and warmth, illumination the core of every woman’s hopes and dreams.

From the Hardcover edition.


Regina was waiting for Blue. To the untrained eye, she looked like any other attractive, energetic black woman in her midthirties, going about her normal Saturday tasks. She stopped at the drugstore for some mouthwash, bought fifty of the James Baldwin commemorative stamps at the post office, had a long lunch at the Soul Vegetarian restaurant. Adrift in an afternoon of waiting, Regina was looking for something, anything, to distract her from counting the hours as they passed at their usual speed, although she could have sworn they were barely crawling by.

It had started last night. As she watched her husband pull on his black cashmere coat and reach for his perfectly blocked homburg, she was suddenly afraid of where he was going and what he might do when he got there.

“Blue,” she said softly, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

Her timing was terrible. He had already uttered the phrase that served as their signal to announce the always surreal moment when her husband left their house, got into a big, black Lincoln with General Richardson, and disappeared into the night. What he did in these moments he did without the sanction of anyone or anything, other than his absolute confidence in the accuracy of his own moral compass and the trust and permission of the people who protected him with their loyalty, their gratitude, and their silence.

Her words floated there between them. Blue, his hand already on the doorknob, stopped to look at her standing nervously in the darkened hallway. Even in the low light, she could see his eyes gleaming, blue as a clear mountain stream, fathoms deep and ancient. She shivered. After two years of marriage, the always unexpected color of her husband’s otherworldly eyes still surprised her, twinkling like sapphires in his dark brown face.

Although he had his mother’s high cheekbones and his father’s lean, compact physique, Blue was the only one in his family with those eyes. Speculation about where they came from had poisoned his father against his mother, although she was innocent of any infidelity. Many years later, after her aunt Abbie predicted correctly that Regina would come to Atlanta and fall in love with a man “who had the ocean in his eyes,” Blue confirmed Abbie’s theory that his eyes were a way to be sure that in this lifetime, unlike the last two when they had missed each other by a hair, Regina couldn’t walk past him without noticing. This time around, that would have been impossible.

At this moment, her husband’s blue eyes were dark pools, magical and mysterious, full of questions she had to answer.

“Can’t do what, baby?” His voice was gentle, but she knew that General was already waiting for Blue out front. This was no time to talk.

Regina spread her arms wide, palms up, and looked at him helplessly. “This. You know, this.”

His eyes softened a little, but he didn’t come toward her. She felt time passing, but Blue seemed not to notice. She had never seen him become impatient and he didn’t now. Regina, however, was increasingly uncomfortable. The idea startled her. She was never uncomfortable around Blue. How could she be? He knew her thoughts almost before she did. She had even accused him of mind reading once or twice, and he hadn’t denied it. But she didn’t want him to read her mind tonight. There were some things that deserved a moment all their own. A moment not already weighted down by midnight comings and going, and cars with tinted windows, and drivers who waited out front with the motor running.

“Sometimes I worry, that’s all.” She walked up to him and kissed his cheek softly. He smelled like citrus.

He smiled at her, his eyes now the turquoise of the Caribbean Sea on a perfect Jamaica day.

He put his arms around her and kissed her so long and slow and deep, she felt her knees tremble. “Don’t worry,” he said, putting on his hat and opening the door.

“Be careful.”

“Careful as I can.” And he was gone.

That was when she started waiting, thirty-six hours twenty-eight minutes and thirty-two seconds ago, which was a lot of waiting, even for Regina. Lately, things had been peaceful and she wanted them to stay that way. Before the current calm descended, there had been a year of barely controlled chaos following the disappearance of two of the surrounding neighborhood’s worst predators, a pimp who called himself King James, and his half-witted henchman, known appropriately as DooDoo. Their thuggish followers had made several angry incursions into West End, the area that her husband had taken under his protective wing before Regina ever met him, and where they now lived quietly in a beautifully restored Victorian house with a huge vegetable garden out back and roses out front that seemed to bloom all year long.

Blue’s reaction to these brutal attacks on the peace, which usually involved violence against women and children, was immediate and, she suspected, sometimes fatal. It wasn’t something they talked about anymore. What was there to say? Regina had married Blue Hamilton knowing exactly who and what he was. His entrance into her life had been so accurately predicted by her aunt, the self-proclaimed “postmenopausal visionary adviser,” that when he walked out of the bright blue front door of one of the many apartment buildings he owned in West End, she recognized him with a jolt of physical desire and emotional memory that made her blush like a schoolgirl.

Later, as they got to know each other, he had told her in all seriousness about what he perceived as his failure in a past life to lead his people when he was their emperor. If that wasn’t enough for her to consider, he movingly described her role in the women’s resistance to his regime’s corruption. His words triggered a flood of her own blood memories and made her know that he was telling the truth.

Blue’s acceptance of the responsibility the neighborhood had informally conferred upon him a decade ago as their de facto godfather grew as much out of his desire to atone for his empire’s past-life crimes against women as it did out of his need to provide the leadership and focus West End required. Like most African American urban neighborhoods, the community’s biggest challenges were youthful predators, middle-aged desperadoes, wannabe gangsters of all ages, and domestic bullies who preyed upon the women and children trying desperately to love them.

In response to these ever-present threats, what Blue promised was that in the twenty-odd square blocks under his control, women would be safe, men would be sane, and children would act like they had some sense. It was a peaceful oasis in a sea of neighborhoods plagued by guns and crack, desperation and despair. Part of what Regina loved and respected about Blue was his willingness to provide protection for ordinary black folks who only wanted to go to work when they could find it, raise their children once they had them, pay their bills as close to on time as possible, and grow old in peace in the little houses they had paid for in exchange for all the hard work that defined their lives.

The only problem arose when Regina took a good long look at exactly how Blue was able to do all that. How was one man—even one as smart and strong and charismatic as her husband—able to keep the streets so peaceful that women walked unescorted and unafraid to the twenty-four-hour beauty shop and there hadn’t been a rape in ten years? It was a legiti-mate question, and Regina was a smart woman. She knew the answer.

In the interest of her own peace of mind, she tried not to think about it too specifically. She didn’t ask Blue any questions to which she didn’t really want answers, and he didn’t volunteer information that might be more than a loving wife needed to know about her loving husband in the general ebb and flow of their everyday lives. Blue’s other role was something separate and they both knew it. To minimize the strangeness of the transi- tion moments, they had developed a kind of verbal shorthand. When he stepped into his other role, he would simply say he had “business to at- tend to,” a phrase he never used any other time. She would tell him to be careful.

“Careful as I can,” he would always say. “Careful as I can.”

Sometimes his business took only a few hours. Other times he was gone overnight, and once or twice longer. Those were the worst times. Those endless hours gave her too much time to imagine that he had come to harm. She closed her eyes, banishing the thought, suddenly panicked at sending out such negative energy into the universe that something evil might turn in her husband’s direction.

Regina took a deep breath and tried to calm down. She watched a movie on television, perused a magazine or two, flipped through the pages of a new novel she had been curious about. Finally, around hour forty-two, she went upstairs and pulled her favorite rocking chair up to the bedroom window. It was September and the nights were just starting to cool off from an August that had alternated between one-hundred-degree sunshine and monsoon-force rains that overwhelmed the city’s aging infrastructure and made many of Atlanta’s thoroughfares fast-flowing rivers of rainwater and big-city rubbish.

Tonight, there was no rain in sight and none predicted. Just the barest suggestion of a chill. Regina wrapped her gray shawl around her shoulders and decided to stop pretending she wasn’t waiting for Blue. There was no reason to pretend anything. There wasn’t even anyone around to pretend to, unless she counted the baby. The baby. She loved the sound of the words in her head, even though she had yet to speak them out loud. Her doctor had confirmed what her home pregnancy test had told her. She was ecstatic, but before she could tell Blue, he had said he had “business to attend to,” and all bets were off. She was going to have her husband’s child and he didn’t even know it yet. Too busy saving the world to hear the big news!

Regina tried to work up some indignation, but she couldn’t. Blue wasn’t off somewhere “saving the world.” He was securing this one small spot on the map for his wife, and soon, for his child. He was doing what a man was supposed to do if he was really a man, and if he was anything at all, her husband was one hundred percent man. If she had anything to say about it, this baby would grow up proud to call Blue Hamilton Daddy.

“Don’t worry, baby,” Regina whispered, wrapping her arms around her body and rocking the chair slowly. “Daddy’s on his way home right now. I can almost feel it, can’t you?”

Outside in the street, an old man and woman strolled by, arm in arm, laughing and talking easily, their strides in perfect sync like they had been walking together for more years than they had walked apart. Regina watched them unobserved from the darkened window, and as she did, the man stopped suddenly, leaned over, and kissed the woman right in the middle of whatever story she was telling.

“You’re crazy!” Regina heard the woman say, and the man beside her didn’t deny it.

“If I’m crazy for kissin’ my own wife, then send my black ass to the asylum and I won’t even be mad!”

The woman shushed him gently, laughing. Regina smiled to herself as they continued down the street and out of sight. She was happy that they still made each other laugh and that they lived in a place where they could take that laughter out for an evening stroll unmolested. They could walk at midnight if they wanted to and be as safe as if it was high noon. Six blocks away that would be impossible. The presence of predators was too real and too dangerous. But in West End, there was still time and space for lovers, and Regina knew who they had to thank for that.

She pulled her shawl a little tighter around her body. “Don’t worry, baby,” she whispered again. “Daddy’s on his way.”

From the Hardcover edition.
Pearl Cleage|Author Q&A

About Pearl Cleage

Pearl Cleage - Baby Brother's Blues

Photo © Albert Trotman

Pearl Cleage is the author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day . . . , an Oprah’s Book Club selection; Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, a Good Morning America Read This! book club pick; Babylon Sisters, for which she was named the 2006 Go On Girl! Book Club Author of the Year; Baby Brother’s Blues, winner of the 2006 NAACP Image Award and the African American Literary Award for fiction; and Seen It All and Done the Rest. The first author selected for the Essence Book Club, she collaborated with her husband, writer Zaron W. Burnett, Jr., on the poem We Speak Your Names. She is also an accomplished dramatist whose plays include Flyin’ West, Blues for an Alabama Sky, and A Song for Coretta. Cleage and her husband live in Atlanta.

Author Q&A


Q: Baby Brother’s Blues has the same strengths of your previous novels: the compelling drama, sharp insights, strong characters, and almost mythical romantic optimism against a backdrop of harsh urban reality. Yet in this book, you move from the first person to third person point of view, and heighten the drama with more of a taut, thrillerlike plot and more immediate personal consequences for your main, recurring characters. What brought you to this place in your fiction, and will you hang with this writing vibe in the foreseeable future?

Pearl Cleage: It was a big change for me to write in the third person, but this story didn’t lend itself to one narrator. With first person, the writer and the reader can see only what the main character sees. This story had lots of activity that took place when nobody was watching so I had to become the all-seeing eye that could take the reader into each thread of the story until they all come together. It was challenging because I had to go to places where I wouldn’t have gone in first person. None of my female narrators would have been caught dead in Montre’s, and they definitely couldn’t have been where Blue and General were working out their questions. I think going to the places where the men go made it grittier. It was great fun for me, although nerve-wracking at times until I got comfortable with it! I now feel like I’m comfortable writing in first person and third person, which is wonderful for me as a writer. It gives me more tools to work with whatever story I’m telling. My new book, The Return of the Amazon Queens, is sort of a combination of the two. I’m using two narrators whose stories overlap. The narrators are Flora Lumumba, who was the founder of the West End Growers Association, and a new character in West End, Josephine Evans, Zora’s grandmother, who has been living in Europe for almost thirty years and has just decided to come home.

Q: This novel seems to be about war on many levels: personal, societal, political, and moral. The wars within and the wars outside of us that affect us so deeply. What moved you to explore this landscape of such profound inner and outer conflict?

PC: I am in great distress about the state of the world around us. Our country is engaged in so many violent conflicts around the world and nobody seems to know how to bring the conflicts to a peaceful end. I thought by having a character like Baby Brother, who was directly involved in the violence but had no political point of view, I could take a look at how that conflict evolves from a global level to our personal lives. I don’t think we can continue to perpetuate violence around the world and think that it won’t affect our citizens and how we act toward one another. I am also always asking readers to think deeply about the role Blue Hamilton plays and how we feel about the code of honor that he obeys. I want us to think about whether or not violence is ever justified and if it is, when and why?

Q: As a black woman who has said and written that you have been in love all of your life, what are your thoughts about and reactions to the down-low dynamic? What effects do you see it having on sisters, on brothers, on how we relate to one another in intimate relationships?

PC: I think the problem with being on the down low is not a question of love or sexuality. It’s a question of lying, and lying is always wrong. When Precious tells her son, Kwame, that the problem is his lying, not his sexuality, she is really saying what I believe. If Kwame had told the truth: to himself, to his mother, to Aretha, he could have lived the life he wanted. But he was afraid, so he lied, with disastrous consequences. I think lying is the death of love. You can’t love a person and lie to them.
Q: If you could be any character in Baby Brother’s Blues for a day, which would it be and why? What would you want to learn, experience, and/or accomplish as that character?

PC: I think I’d have to be Abbie doing that cartwheel on the beach! I’ve wanted to do cartwheels all my life and I can never get it right. I’d want to accomplish one perfect cartwheel!

Q: You write about many of the harshest realities in our country in general and the African American community in particular: domestic violence, street dangers, stripper culture, the down-low phenomenon, human trafficking, and, of course, the war. Yet you manage to instill a kind of hope in your characters and your readers. How do you maintain your own sense of hope amid the madness?

PC: I love that quote from Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl that says “In spite of everything, I still believe in the goodness of people.” She wrote that just days before the Nazis came and took her whole family to a concentration camp! I share that belief. I think that most people are basically good and want to raise families, do good work, fall in love, and grow old in peace surrounded by family and friends. The problems begin when we try to force other people to believe what we believe, or when we feel entitled to their resources simply because we are strong enough to take them. I think the challenge we face now is not to give up hope and abandon the struggle for peace and truth. If we do that, the bad guys will win and then where will we be? These days when I start to feel hopeless and depressed, I try to spend time with my two grandchildren. Being with them makes me want to rededicate myself to the struggle and to find peaceful solutions to the problems we face. I think I owe them that much.

Q: Tell us about the power of the storyteller, the novelist, and the playwright to share their vision with the world, and which vision you are most committed to sharing with your readers.

PC: I think storytelling is an ancient art that has survived because it’s through our stories that we reveal who we truly are as a community of people. I want my stories to be able to stimulate a vision in people of a different way for us to live together.
I think that one of the most important things a writer can do is to create characters that let us look at how we can be the best possible human beings. That doesn’t mean every character should be perfect, but I want my overall vision to be optimistic because I believe we are capable of “fixing what’s broke.”

Q: What have you learned from the characters in Baby Brother’s Blues?

PC: I learned that men’s lives are very, very different from women’s lives! I guess I knew that already, but writing a novel in the third person and living in the heads of the men in the book really made me aware of how differently men and women approach the world. It was challenging, but I learned so much and I truly value the experience.

Q: What does Wes Jamerson, aka “Baby Brother,” represent about Black life in America today? How did you feel about him as you were writing this book? Did your feelings change as the story progressed?

PC: Wes Jamerson is a lost soul. He has a tremendous feeling of entitlement and no feeling of responsibility. It is difficult to deal with people like this because they never feel that they are responsible for their actions and the consequences of those actions. I felt sorry for him, but he is never a person who is going to be a contributing member of any group, so he kind of had to end up the way he did.

Q: Kwame is living a life of deception. Is his wife, Aretha, deceiving herself as well?

PC: I don’t think Aretha was deceiving herself. She had no idea her husband was living a double life. His lies were so complete and her trust in him was so absolute that she had no idea that he was having affairs and seeking out the company of strangers. I think she was deceived, but I don’t think she was deceiving herself.

Q: Do we all deceive ourselves a little when it comes to love? Or is there room for absolute honesty with oneself and one’s partner in a relationship?

PC: I think there is room for absolute honesty and that not only is there room for it, it is necessary if the love is going to last. I don’t think that there can be lies and deception between people who say they love each other. What is the reason for lying to loved ones? I firmly believe that truth must be at the heart of any real loving relationship. Think how different Kwame and Aretha’s relationship would have been if he had told her the truth.

Q: Blue is driven so strongly by his sense of ethics, yet it led him to be unforgiving of his best friend, General. Is their friendship a casualty of an ethical war? And will Blue regret being so hard on General?

PC: I think Blue is consistent. That is part of his personality and part of what makes him able to play the role he plays in West End. You can’t hold the power of life and death over people and be wishy-washy. You have to have a strict code of ethics, honor, and conduct and stick to it. General knew the rules. He knew he broke the rules, not about Juanita, but about Baby Brother’s murder. If Blue had forgiven General, then what message would that send to the community about Blue and his men? Allowing General to kill someone–even an undesirable someone like Baby Brother–would undermine everything Blue has built. He didn’t kill General. General recognized his error and took his own life. He knew there was no other honorable choice. I think Blue will miss General, but I think he knows there was no other choice.

Q: Aretha and Regina are friends. Has Regina had any trouble staying sober after her recovery from the cocaine addiction that she overcame in Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do? Does Aretha know about this aspect of Regina’s life?

PC: Regina never had a problem with alcohol and drugs again. After she got over breaking up with Son and with Beth, she became stronger for the struggle. Regina and Aretha have probably talked about this many times. They are close friends and during the time they spent at the beach together after the murder of Baby Brother, I am sure they talked about everything!

Q: The character Brandi was very realistic, as were your descriptions of her work at the strip clubs. Have you been to a strip club? Have you known any women who do that type of dancing? Is stripping a form of exploitation, an empowered life choice, or something else altogether?

PC: I have never been to a strip club, but I’ve seen enough of them in movies, videos, and on television shows that I felt I could re-create the ambience in a believable way. I know one woman who worked in a strip club while she was in college. She didn’t particularly like it, but it paid good money and she quit as soon as she graduated. I don’t think of working in the sex industry as an empowering choice as much as I think of it as the lesser of the evils many women face when looking for employment. Since the sex industry usually involves physical intimacy with other human beings based on an exchange of money, not an exchange of emotions, I think it has the potential to cheapen those emotions and make it difficult for the sex workers to be involved in other human relationships. There is also the question of violence and sexually transmitted diseases. It’s dangerous, dehumanizing work in most cases, and not a life I would recommend.

Q: How does diving so deeply into the issues of the day, the pathologies of our society and our community, affect you as a person outside of your writing?

PC: I think that looking closely at our community and thinking deeply about what I see there is part of my work. As a writer, I have the responsibility to try to understand why human beings do the things they do, and create characters that allow me to explore the wide variety of those behaviors. I don’t set out to write about issues. I set out to write about people, characters who are situated in real times and places. Because problems and challenges exist, my characters run up against them, too. At the same time, they are trying to figure out their personal relationships and their love lives. I am very concerned about the degree of violence and intolerance in our world. I hope that my writing is part of the movement of people to reclaim their countries and communities and remake them as places of safety and peace. I’d like West End to be so peaceful that they don’t need Blue Hamilton anymore so he can just relax and raise his child and love his wife, but we aren’t there yet.

Q: What, if any, bullets of insight or awareness are you hoping to lodge in the consciousness of your readers with Baby Brother’s Blues?

PC: I hope that people will find these characters interesting enough to spend a couple hundred pages with them. I hope that, as they follow the journey of General and Blue and Zora and Baby Brother and Brandi and Abbie and Peachy and the rest of these folks, they will see themselves reflected in some of the challenges and some of the choices. I hope this book tells a good story that draws you in and won’t let you go until it’s done!

Q: When did you know that you were a writer, someone who would write for a living and be published? When did you feel that you had arrived?

PC: I have always known I was a writer. I started telling stories to my big sister when I was just two years old! When she learned to read and taught me at age four, I started writing my stories down in little notebooks, and I’ve been doing it ever since! I never thought about whether or not I could write for a living. I started publishing very early, while I was still in high school, but I usually got a few dollars and a few copies of the magazines in payment. I always thought I would have to do other things to pay the rent! It has been such a blessing to me to be able to write full-time and make a living at it. As for feeling like I had arrived, I think the wonderful thing about writing is that you can keep doing it, and working to get better at it, until you’re too old to hold the pen and see the pages! I’m not trying to arrive anywhere. I’m trying to work hard and be a better writer with each and every book. I love the process of writing and I hope to continue to do it for the rest of my life.

Q: What advice do you most commonly give people who tell you they want to write novels?

PC: I tell people they should keep journals to help them get into the habit of writing for at least half an hour a day. A journal helps you begin to look more closely at the world around you and how you feel about what you see. Developing a point of view and voice are crucial to the writer’s art, so a journal is a good place to start. I urge them to write each and every day and to think of learning to write the same way they would think of learning to play the trumpet . . . you have to practice if you want to get good at it! I also encourage people to think about developing their craft before they start trying to figure out how to make money. If you write well and work to write better, I believe you will find an audience. But writing isn’t a field to go into to be a millionaire–most writers never make enough to pay the light bill!

Q: What is it about the process of writing that sustains you? Challenges you? Fulfills you? Makes you crazy?

PC: Writing is the way I answer my own questions about the world. When I look around and see that my community isn’t safe, I ask myself: Why isn’t it safe and what would it take to make it safer? When I start trying to figure out what it means to be in love, I create characters who are trying to figure it out, too; that allows me to discover the answers along with the characters and the reader. The most challenging thing, I think, is to figure out what story you are trying to tell. At the early stages, all things are possible and it is the writer’s job to focus in on the one story that you can’t stand not to share. When I find the thread of the story I’m looking for, I am always grateful and very excited. I think there’s always a moment when you feel like you’re crazy for even trying to write this story. You hate the pages you’ve got, you have no idea where you should go next, and you don’t even like your characters anymore! At that point, you should get up, turn off your computer, leave your office, and go outside for a while. Sit on the front steps, wave at your neighbors, drink a glass of wine with your beloved, play with your grandchildren–anything to remind you that the world that’s making you crazy is all in your head. It’s only make-believe. Real life is something else altogether and writing, even wonderful writing, is only a pale reflection. So when you feel crazy, just remember, “It’s only a novel . . . it’s only a novel . . . it’s only a novel.”

Q: What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?

PC: I think most readers would be surprised to learn that I can cook a great Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey, homemade dressing, mac and cheese, collard greens, and all the trimmings!



Praise for Pearl Cleage and Babylon Sisters

“Pearl Cleage’s wonderful new novel, Babylon Sisters, shows a writer at the top of her game, managing to weave together the eternal dance of mothers and daughters, a timeless love story, rich friendships, and international politics into a fast-paced Atlanta saga with an unforgettable villain and a thrilling climax that leaves us cheering. Cleage has once again given us a book filled with folks who are so real we think we know them, or wish we did.”
–E. Lynn Harris, author of A Love of My Own

“Babylon Sisters’ funny, feminine, fabulous voice sings a story of history, family, love and redemption. Cleage’s ability to make the personal political and the political personal triumphs once again! Nestled in this beautifully written ode to love–of child, friends, men, and self–is a call to political activism and empowerment.”
–Jill Nelson, author of Sexual Healing

“Cleage writes with amazing grace and [a] killer instinct.”
–The New York Times

“A perfect blend of love and activism . . . [Cleage’s] characters struggle with issues of conscience and consequence, and readers are always richer in the end.”
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

From the Hardcover edition.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. How do you feel about the strategy adopted by Blue Hamilton to protect his neighborhood from crime? Has traditional law enforcement failed our communities to the extent that drastic alternatives like Blue’s need to be adopted to protect its livelihoods? What approach would you think most promising or effective?

2. Precious Hargrove’s quest for higher political office is complicated by many factors, in this novel most specifically, her son’s sexuality. Do you think today’s political elections have gotten sidetracked from the issues, or is a politician’s personal and family life relevant to their conduct and effectiveness in office?

3. The atmosphere of Atlanta’s West End is so powerfully evoked in this novel that it is almost a character in itself. Do you feel a strong sense of community where you live? How can a positive sense of community be created?

4. Blue has a very clear concept of past lives influencing our current lives. Do you believe in reincarnation? If so, how does this influence your life choices on a daily basis?

5. Do you believe, as General Richardson comes to, that signs from those who have passed on make it to the world of the living?

6. The war in Iraq rumbles menacingly in this book’s background. What conclusions about the war can we draw from the author’s portrayal of Baby Brother?

7. Abbie Browning is hesitant to put bars on her windows, feeling it would transform her home into a prison. What do we sacrifice in order to ensure our own security?

8. Captain Lee Kilgore claims to have originally wanted to idealistically stop drug dealers from shooting up the neighborhood, but she spiraled downward into corruption. How are good intentions degraded? How does one protect oneself from that sort of corruption?

9. Kwame Hargrove’s down-low sexual activities ultimately cause his family considerable turmoil. Would it have been better if he’d been honest about his tendencies? And if he had, how do you think his family would have reacted?

10. Conversely, what choices are available to Kwame’s wife, Aretha – a woman with a child, married to a good provider who is also bisexual? What would you do in her situation?

11. Do you share Samson Epps’ contempt for deserters from the military? Is there any situation where avoiding service could still be honorable?

12. After Regina Burns gets pregnant, she longs for her husband to rein in his covert activities. How realistic is it for people to get their partners to change?

13. Lee feels contempt for Precious’ expressed attitude about young criminals: that they are victimized products of their environment. Do we sometimes overly rationalize bad behavior? How much do you think environment determines our behavior?

14. Do you think Blue was right to urge General to take his own life?

15. At one point Blue contemplates the world in which his child will soon be born. How optimistic do you feel about the world that we are leaving for future generations?

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