Monday, July 30, 2012
Brambleman by Jonathan Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Info: Genre: Literary Fiction Reading Level: Adult
Disclosure: I received a free ebook copy of this novel from the author through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review. I later received an offer for it through NetGalley, which I accepted.
Synopsis: Down-and-out Atlanta writer Charlie Sherman has no idea what madness awaits him when a mysterious stranger convinces him to finish a dead man's book about a horrific crime that's gone unpunished for decades. What Charlie inherits is an unwieldy manuscript about the mob-driven expulsion of more than 1,000 blacks from Forsyth County, Georgia in 1912. During the course of his work, Charlie uncovers a terrible secret involving a Forsyth County land grab. Due to its proximity to Atlanta, the stolen farm is now worth $20 million-and a sale is pending. When he finds the land's rightful owner, Charlie becomes convinced he's been chosen by a Higher Power to wreak justice and vengeance on those who profit from evil. And then things go horribly wrong.
Historical Background: Forsyth County, famous as the birthplace of Hee-Haw's Junior Samples, has existed as an intentionally all-white community bordering the black Mecca of Atlanta since 1912, following one of the 20th century's most violent, racist outrages – including lynching, nightriding, and arson. In 1987, the sleepy community gained notoriety when a small march, led by civil rights firebrand Hosea Williams, was broken up by rock- and bottle-throwing Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and their sympathizers. Bloody but unbowed, Williams returned the next week with 25,000 followers in one of largest civil-rights marches in history. There was talk of reparations. Oprah came. Protests and counter-protests yielded a landmark Supreme Court case on free speech. But most importantly, white people flocked to Forsyth. It became the fastest- growing county in the nation, the richest one in Georgia, and one of the twenty wealthiest in the U.S.
My Thoughts: I was particularly interested in reading this book since all this happened to close to where I live (within about an hour’s drive if the traffic cooperates). While it took place well before I ever arrived on the scene, the attitude of the people around here is very similar, I’m guessing.
I was surprised by the amount of humor put into this book. While it is focused on issues of discrimination and the consequences thereof, as well as the various travails through which Charlie Sherman must pass, it also pokes sly fun at both the conservative and liberal ideals, in a way. Charlie’s thoughts, for instance, about how jumping off a highway overpass is the most “socially irresponsible” way to commit suicide made me laugh. Other comments that amused me included “courthouse arson is a proud Forsyth county tradition,” and one about home ownership being a sure sign of uppitiness in the eyes of the racist members of the community. Then, as a result of all non-whites being driven out of Forsyth County in 1912, it is stated: By 1913, the true nature and scope of Forsyth’s tragedy had become brutally clear. White women, some of them from the finest families, were forced to do their own cooking and cleaning. Bet they never thought about that result! But seriously, the one thing that Grant does not poke fun at is the deadly serious nature of the brutal racism that swept through this area at that time. The descriptions and explanations are sometimes quite brutal, and those with a sensitive nature might want to think strongly about this before they read this book, but enough humor is interspersed into it to keep it bearable.
One thing that confused me is a comment about the trip between Gainseville and Atlanta being 53 miles of mountain roads... there is no mountain between Gainseville and Atlanta, so I’m not sure how there could be mountain roads. Perhaps the author meant country roads. Today, the trip between Gainesville and Atlanta is a fairly straight shot, but I can see where the roads probably were windy before the highway currently there was built. Another thing that made me do some research is the mention of “frantic telephone calls” amongst several people in 1912; I can’t find any evidence to back up my suspicion, but I don’t think telephones were very widespread yet in 1912, so I’m not sure how realistic this situation is.
One of my favorite things about this book is the characters. Grant perfectly caught the complexity of the people of Georgia. Georgia has a really crazy-quilt population – you have the back-country, small-town folks who tend to be very suspicious of outsiders, and old-school racist, having not been taught any differently; and then you have the big city folks, in Atlanta and Athens, especially, that are very liberal. These groups often clash, as can be expected, carrying on such acrimoniously different opinions about how things should be. Always being the sort to get into the middle of things, I think there are good points and bad points to both sides of the argument, and that Truth lies somewhere in the middle. Grant obviously has spent a great deal of time researching the people of this great state, and I feel he did a really good job of bringing it all the life. The characters are all wonderfully developed, unique, and grow (most of them) through the course of the book.
All-in-all, I can highly recommend this excellent story. The book is very long, with multiple points that feel like a denouement, but bear with it – the ending is well worth the trip and literally gave me goosebumps. A very satisfying story, a superbly gratifying read, and one you really don’t want to miss.
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