Nowhere Is a Place

Bernice L. McFadden, Author
Bernice L. McFadden, Author . Dutton $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-94875-9
Reviewed on: 12/05/2005
Release date: 02/01/2006

McFadden's Sugar and other titles remain key recent novels of black women's search for, and claiming of, origins; this flawed but engrossing multigenerational saga takes its place among them. Pregnant and chronically "displaced" at 38, Sherry sets off with her mother, Dumpling, on a road trip from Nevada to a family reunion in Georgia. Along the way, she presses the reluctant Dumpling for family stories, intending to write a history as a project of self-discovery. The road trip sections are awkward and perfunctory, but Sherry's transformations of Dumpling's stories—creating a book-within-a-book reaching back 150 years—are terrific. One memorable section relates how a group of slaves cannily manages to take over the plantation from its deranged master; a later section tells of Dumpling's mother, Lillie, who fled Georgia for a wild life in Philadelphia; a puzzling slap Sherry received from Dumpling at a family get-together is also eventually explained. With her deep engagement in the material and her brisk but lyrical prose, McFadden creates a poignant epic of resiliency, bringing Sherry to a well-earned awareness of her place atop the shoulders of her ancestors, those who survived so that she might one day, too. (Feb.)

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