I grew up in the Northeast. I'm a 70 year old white girl who lived in one of the richest almost-all-white towns in my state, which bordered a small town that was chartered and run and peopled by black people. The women who came weekly to clean our huge house were from this little town, as was a man raised in Jamaica, who was a sort of handy man for us from the time I was three years old. He had a British accent. He would let me tag around with him, "helping" him fix things by holding the screwdriver, or sharing my opinion as to whether the drawer closed more easily now or the door's squeak was gone. I actually thought he was my third grandfather for several years. I adored him. I likewise thought the women who came to clean (several different ones over the years) were my aunts - because of how kind and loving they were toward me as I rushed to find them on the days I knew they'd be there when I got home from school. I offered to help them clean, but they would never let me. "But you can keep me company, honey." I did. One of them is, today, one of my dearest friends. She's 80 and still drives a mini-school bus - just because she likes to keep busy. We lived on the last street in our town, right on the line to the other town, which was comforting to me, because I knew some of the nicest people and they lived there.
But then, when I was about 10, I suddenly became aware of racism. My parents had never even hinted at such a thing, and always treated our hired helpers with the same respect and kindness they treated the mailman, a delivery person, a dishwasher repairman - anyone with whom they conducted any business.
But one evening in 1956, aged 10, I saw, on our black and white (that's symbolism for you) TV, white policemen knocking black people to the ground with fire hoses. One of them was a very pregnant woman. Pretty quickly, I was educated as to the state of affairs in our country. My bubble of protected ignorance had burst and I was horrified.
A few years later I stood in the rain on a Civil Right's protest line, bewildered as to what this could do to help an intolerable situation.
More years later, the night Dr. King was killed, I was having dinner in the home of a black pastor and his wife, with my new husband, who had gone to the deep South to register black voters on his Easter break from college, around 1966. He came back a changed man, and I understood that he could have been hung for his efforts. He was glad he had gone.
This pastor was a very active player in the Civil Rights movement, and had invited us over to talk about ways we might be able to contribute to the cause. We were just about to have dessert when his phone rang. He listened for a moment, then looked stunned, and then just said, "Yes, I will. Right away." He turned to us and said, "Dr. King has been assassinated. I want you both to get in your car and get back home to Virginia (across the Key Bridge) as fast as you can." He lived in Washington, D.C. I didn't understand why, at the time, but he foresaw the rioting that would begin that night, and his first thought was our safety.
So over the years, I've read countless books and seen many movies and documentaries about slavery - biographies, histories, fiction. I have a searingly clear idea of what slavery was like, and have suffered vicariously on behalf of so many. I've been troubled for much of my life over all that has happened in the past, and how much further some people still have to go regarding race. (I've also seen tremendous change in my long lifetime, thank God and all who have fought for equal rights).
But here's my point: I had never read anything that showed the other side of the story! I'd never come across a novel that detailed so beautifully the lives of slaves who had escaped and were living successfully and productively elsewhere. I had grown up as the neighbor to a totally black town, and found it completely normal to see, when I drove through it in later years, all kinds of businesses, nicely kept homes and cars, and pleasant-looking people, some of whom I knew and loved.
This book, Black, is the first thing I've read that so vividly and beautifully paints the picture of black people running their own lives and society even in the time of the horrors of slavery. It wasn't a new picture, for me; it was one that brought back so many fond memories of how I have always known black people to be, which is THE SAME AS ANY OTHER PEOPLE.
There were the good and the bad; the educated and those who were not. There were the various relationships between the men and women, and the most wonderful hero and heroine I've read about in a long, long time. Can't even think of any that surpass these two, at the moment!
I was shocked at how much I loved seeing the bad guys "get what they deserved", as I also marched in peace marches back in the day. I'm very non-violent by nature. But man, did Ms. Vassar's descriptions of how evil and devious and pernicious the bad guys were get my blood boiling. It was a bit gory for me a few times, but at the same time, I was stamping my foot with a hearty "YES!" (Shocking little old lady, aren't I?)
This book utterly stunned me with its vivid and staggering descriptions of "necessary" cruelty - there were bad guys intent on destroying the good, innocent lives I had grown to love. I do NOT condone violence. But it's a novel, and she drew me into it so deeply! I saw it as self-defense, given the intent of the bad guys.
The lovemaking scenes were stirring, and conveyed such true, deep love that I was able to excuse the vividness of them - I really do not like looking into anyone else's bedroom. I fast forward through sex scenes if I slip up and rent a movie that has such. I skim through any such scenes that find their way into books I read. I just don't like vividly seeing or reading about anyone else's sex acts! But this was different. Ms Vassar was not at all crass in her descriptions - she did it most beautifully. I felt so happy for both Black and Sunday, for the love I could feel they shared and the comfort and joy they brought each other when they were alone together. She painted a picture of what love and love making is supposed to be, for every one of us who is married to a good spouse.
This book was like a window into the part of the black experience that I simply had never had a chance to read about. I grew up seeing it, through that little town next to mine. I once was taken by our handy man (my third grandfather) to visit his house, and I saw the love and devotion he shared with his wife. I've always had some fine friends of various races and cultures in my life. But somehow, this book was like a missing link, and I feel it has actually completed something that was missing from my own experience. I'm so grateful.
As others have said, the details of food, clothing, hairdo's, furnishings, surroundings, faces, etc. were richly done - not overdone. I love being able to picture the characters and their surroundings. Ms. Vassar has that down quite expertly.
Most of all, I loved the characters. As others have said, (again), even the terrible ones. They were so clearly drawn. I really despised the bad guys with all my heart. I almost felt like confessing the sin of vengeance! Now that's some good writin', there.
When-oh-when will the next in this series be available? Ms. Vassar, I'm praying for you. We need to hear more from you. Bless you in your efforts!!! May you have great success as an author. Thank you for the work I know has gone into your efforts so far, and please - carry on!!! Many of us are spreading the word.