The Book of Harlan

Narrated by: Robin Miles
Length: 9 hrs and 43 mins
Categories: History, Military
4.5 out of 5 stars (362 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan's parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he eventually becomes a professional musician. When Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are invited to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre - affectionately referred to as "the Harlem of Paris" by black American musicians - Harlan jumps at the opportunity, convincing Lizard to join him.

But after the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald - the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany - irreparably changing the course of Harlan's life.

Based on exhaustive research and told in McFadden's mesmeric prose, The Book of Harlan skillfully blends the stories of McFadden's familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.

©2016 Bernice L. McFadden (P)2016 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Simply miraculous.... As her saga becomes ever more spellbinding, so does the reader's astonishment at the magic she creates. This is a story about the triumph of the human spirit over bigotry, intolerance and cruelty, and at the center of The Book of Harlan is the restorative force that is music.” ( Washington Post)
"McFadden packs a powerful punch with tight prose and short chapters that bear witness to key events in early twentieth-century history: both World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Migration. Partly set in the Jim Crow South, the novel succeeds in showing the prevalence of racism all across the country - whether implemented through institutionalized mechanisms or otherwise." ( Booklist)
"Through this character portrait of Harlan, McFadden has constructed a vivid, compelling narrative that makes historical fiction an accessible, literary window into the African-American past and some of the contemporary dilemmas of the present." ( Publishers Weekly)
What members say
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

An insightful account of an eventful period

Wow. I almost quit this book but I am glad I didn’t. This book is really touched my soul. I have never given much thought to black people in the context of World War II period as most of the narrative revolves around the Jewish Experience. This is the most detailed accounting I’ve personally read about a real black person captured and sent to a concentration camp.

Harlan Elliot grew up in that 1920’s period where music was going through a revolution. Harlan, his best friend Leo “Lizard” Rubenstein “and their bandmates got an opportunity to travel abroad to Paris and perform. Harlan and Lizard were captured by the Nazi’s when Paris was invaded in 1940, and they were sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Five long years later Harlan made it out but Lizard didn’t survive and Harlan’s life was forever changed.

The latter half of Harlan’s story portrayed a wounded soul. This story was painful yet informative. Disturbing yet rousing. At times, I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t bring myself to halt. The author’s use of imagery and prose leaves the reader feeling raw at times, but also mesmerized with the portrayal of the period’s musicality.

There were other subplots in this story but Harlan’s experience was the centerpiece. It was written with care and I was left astonished by the time I was done. This is Historical Fiction done well. I appreciate the author sharing this story and giving voice to a marginalized segment of the 1920-40’s era. This book wasn’t a flowers and candy read, but it was engaging, informative and inspirational.

9 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Hype for no reason

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

No, This book has such great reviews and testimonials. I just kept waiting for it to get good. Really didn't like this book.

Any additional comments?

Love this Author...read this book because of her other books. This book--- maybe I need someone to explain to me why they love it so much.

4 people found this helpful

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Must-Listen! Amazing book from opening to last minute!

A captivating listen. So amazing. Such a wonderful and beautiful tale. Joyful, soulful, heartbreaking, and beautiful. The Book of Harlan is one of the more engrossing books I've ever had the pleasure of listening to.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Masterful!

Bravo! I truly enjoyed this story down to the very last drop! Robin Miles is always magnificent! :-) My only desire would be to know what happened to his sons and if the reference to twins burning in the fire meant his sons remains a question for me.

2 people found this helpful

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A Riveting Saga

This epic African American family story, spanning several generations, was stitched together seamlessly by actual historical events. Robin Miles's reading was masterful. I was so sad when the narrative ended, and I will remember Harlan for a very, very long time. This was an awesome, awesome audiobook!

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Robin Miles is amazing

Robin Miles's narration is amazing. Her mastery of so many different accents and even languages makes this a great book to listen to. Her ability to give so many characters distinct voices for dialogue makes the story easy to follow. And the voices aren't forced. She's great.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Not As Expected and disappointed

I have read all of Bernice McFadden's books and The Book of Harlan" was the last one on my list. This book veered away from her regular tone and writing style. I felt as though, I learned a lesson from Bernice's books. This book is dark, all over the place and not a clear ending. The characters were mentioned BUT never mentioned again. No true ending or understanding of what happened with several major characters. I'm really surprised and disappointed in this book. I know Bernice is a good writer. I will not allow this book to deter me from her future writings.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Disappointing

The novel tries too hard to be a sweeping saga of African American history and comes off forced. The only characters I grew to care about were killed off or senselessly disappeared too early. Harlan himself is less than compelling, and his central plot line careens into stark implausibility. The conclusion is simply bizarre.

1 person found this helpful

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  • k.
  • 09-22-16

Great Story-telling, Wonderful Narration

What made the experience of listening to The Book of Harlan the most enjoyable?

The writing style of Bernice McFadden is exceptional. She gives a breath to words that is pure joy. Coupled with the wonderful narration by Robin Miles, this book is a true winner.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Why Harlan, of course. The title alone, conjures up a feeling of something holy and profound. Such as 'The Book of Job, The Book of Abraham', etc.
I was soon to discover, it is the everyday occurrences in this journey called life that elevate to the level of purpose and dignity. The quote by Dorothy West at the end of the book is the premise for the story. True genius.

Have you listened to any of Robin Miles’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

This was my first time listening to Robin Miles and she was most impressive. Her inflections, her various accents were spot on and her impersonations of men were genuine as well.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There were many moments--Harlan's journey to Europe. Never had I even considered the plight of African Americans at the hands of the Germans. Emma's life when Harlan was young as she and her husband attempted to flourish in a world that tried to deny them.
Oh, and the twins.....The twins...In one fleeting stroke, you learn their destiny. Listen carefully readers......

Any additional comments?

Thank you Bernice McFadden. This is my first book I've read by you and it won't be my last.
Thank you Robin Miles. I look forward to listening you again.

1 person found this helpful

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Journey

What a journey for Harlan Elliott.

I felt every word, like I was there.

~Lee

3 people found this helpful

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  • Michael Gayle
  • 12-14-17

One of the best reads ever

Absolutely fantastic, gripping, superbly written all I can do is fully recommend this book. A must read/listen!!!!