Thursday, 18 September 2014

Ernest Gaines

   Oprah started her book club in 1996, just in time for my retirement!
  In 1997, while we were travelling, I decided to read to John one of Oprah's choices.
  "A Lesson Before Dying" had an intriguing title and a more intriguing concept.
   In the 1940's, a young black man, Jefferson, is about to go to the electric chair for murder. His grandmother wants her grandson to 'die like a man'.  So she begs the school teacher, Grant Wiggins, to teach Jefferson some self-esteem and pride in his identity as a black man.
   We both found this book fascinating and as we were finishing the trip, in the rain, I was trying to get the book finished, hoping that we wouldn't crash and I would be found reading this title.
   The book was so sensitively written, and later, when we rented the movie, we found it even more powerful emotionally.  The photography of that movie was stunning! 
   I wanted to read more by this author and "A Gathering of Old Men" appealed to me as a title.  So I have been searching for the book and finally found a copy.  It was written in 1983.

   Once again, Ernest Gaines, writes about the search for black, male identity. He shows the two extremes- revenge versus co-operation.
   A white woman, Candy, discovered a Cajun farmer had been shot in a black man's yard.  She enlisted the help of seventeen old black men, who all swear to killing the man, in order to protect the real killer from lynching.
   The victim's father, "Fix", is known to be explosive and he also has a ring of black men who are looking for revenge.  But Fix's other son is a football player who is part of a 'salt and pepper' team.  They work for racial harmony.  Fix is persuaded that times have changed and vigilante justice doesn't work anymore.
   There are many characters and lots of dialect to confuse this story. But there is real farce in the idea of a ring of old men with guns waiting for the other group of old men with guns.  And it is more amusing because most of the old men can't see well enough to shoot- or even stand long enough.  But they are willing to die for the cause of 'being a man' and not allowing lynching.

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