God, Doctor Buzzard, and the Bolito Man: A Memoir of Life on Sapelo Island

Cornelia Walker Bailey, Author, Christena Bledsoe, Author
Cornelia Walker Bailey, Author, Christena Bledsoe, Author Doubleday Books $23.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-385-49376-5
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-385-49377-2
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In a delightful, sincere memoir, born storyteller Bailey reveals the shadows of a little-known culture that is increasingly threatened by encroaching developers. Her tiny community of ""salt water geechees"" on Sapelo Island, off the Georgia coast, consists of the survivors of slave families who believe in the power of God, the ""root doctor"" and the numbers runner, hence the title. Bailey's own family is directly descended from the African Muslim, Bilali (or Bul-Allah), who founded their community. Many of their traditions can be traced to Africa, as Bailey discovered when she traveled there as an adult. Entertaining and mystifying, her reflections on growing up geechee evidence a healthy respect for the supernatural: on Sapelo, the living are seen to coexist with the spirits of the dead; a curse could lead a person to ruin; and every dream is significant. Bailey herself ""died"" as a child; her coffin was later used to store her mother's linens when she inexplicably recovered. Bailey's most terrifying reflections, however, concentrate upon the days of slavery and the Jim Crow culture that replaced it. In the decades that followed, Bailey's own father was cheated out of the family homestead by a henchman of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds, according to the author. One indelible image is that of her father reknotting his net, as the family sits at the hearth to watch, before he goes night fishing to feed them. In writing that is both unadorned and poetic, Bailey's soft Southern wit shines through, resonating with humor and charm. Readers enthralled by anthropology and African-American life will not want to put this book down. (Sept.)
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