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Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden
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Gathering of Waters (edition 2012)

by Bernice L. McFadden

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1293793,299 (4)18
EllenH's review
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Gathering of Waters is a mystical, eerie, captivating fictional story of Emmett Till, his famous murder in 1955, and the characters of Money, Mississippi, told by the soul of Money. The story flows wonderfully, I was captivated without stumble until the final few chapters, when Tass comes back to Money and things change for her. I wasn’t sure at first that I liked it, but it soon fit.
This is an edgy book also in that it brings back so well the hatred, but also the beauty, from that time in our history. Bernice McFadden writes masterfully, reminding me of Toni Morrison’s writing. I received this through Librarything.com giveaways, and I loved this book! This would make a great book club read ( )
  EllenH | Apr 28, 2012 |
All member reviews
Showing 1-25 of 37 (next | show all)
A strange and troubling novel narrated by the spirit of a town: Money, Mississippi, where Emmett Till was murdered in 1955. The novel provides glimpses of beauty and insight about the lives of African Americans in the mid-century South. But the novel's central conceit is disturbing: that the angry spirit of a "crazy whore" - a beautiful woman turned mad and vicious by the brutality of men - enters other living bodies and animates them toward evil. Both the vicious torture of Emmett Till and the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina are blamed in this novel on the vengeful spirit of that abused woman.
  Lynnkc | Dec 7, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden; an ER/ARC; thank you

This book.........this book is hauntingly lovely while the subject matter is mostly not. The building of the characterization & subject material was not rushed so this reader had plenty of time to acclimate herself to the book, the people & the events of the story.
It is a novel based on the murder of Emmett Til in Mississippi back in the 1950s, a hate crime that would most likely have turned out much differently in this day. But in that day the black people of our Southern communities had much to fear even in their innocence.
The love story is small, short & yet HUGE. There is a daily violence & perversity within most of the families depicted here that may be difficult for some to imagine. But the story flows smoothly from event to event. I really liked the main character of the book when I finally figured out who it was for this is a generational story. And I did appreciate the bits of mystical surrealism that accompanies this story. In fact I found myself looking forward to the next bit that I knew
As an ARC/ER, Gathering of Waters did exactly what it needed to do, what it was meant to do and what many ARC/ER books do not. It sold me on Bernice L. McFadden as an author and I cannot wait to read something else by her. I highly recommend this one. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Sep 11, 2013 |
A compelling African American novel mixing fantasy and historical realities.

Evil exists, as the African Americans living in Money, Mississippi, know all too well. But so do goodness and love, bringing life joy as well as pain, as Bernice McFadden shows readers in Gathering of the Waters.

Read more on my blog, Me, you and books: http://wp.me/p24OK2-RO
  mdbrady | Aug 12, 2013 |
Since I finished this book, it has haunted me.

As I move through my day, images, phrases, characters, tensions, joys, and sorrows from Gathering of Waters sneak up on me when I least expect them. This is probably only fitting, as McFadden presents in her novel a multi-generational story, told by the town of Money, Mississippi (yes, by the town), that seamlessly combines beautifully clear and elegantly simple descriptions of everyday life among black families living in Money, with incandescently beautiful examinations of the spiritual elements of these families’ lives. Throughout, McFadden focuses on the human spirit, love and hatred, good and evil, and the ways in which souls can transcend the ravages of racism, hatred, fear, and evil.

From the time you open the cover and take in the novel’s opening lines, you know you are reading a special book:

“I am Money. Money Mississippi.
“I have had many selves and have been many things. My beginning was not a conception, but the result of a growing, stretching, and expanding, which took place over thousands of years.
“I have been figments of imaginations, shadows and sudden movements seen out of the corner of your eye. I have been dewdrops, falling stars, silence, flowers, and snails.
“For a time, I lived as a beating heart, another life found me swimming upstream toward a home nestled in my memory. Once, I was a language that died. I have been sunlight, snowdrifts, and sweet babies’ breath. But today, however, for you and for this story, I am Money. Money Mississippi.” (12)

McFadden introduces significant key themes in these opening paragraphs. A central concept in the novel is animism, the belief that there is no separation between the spiritual and the material world, that souls are contained in plants, rocks, water, as well as in humans, and that souls can pass from generation to generation in different hosts. This belief system provides a thematic framework for the novel, generating not only tensions and conflicts across generations, but also strong ties to places, to people, to spirits moving among us. There’s a true sense of people being part of a place, of an integrity and wholeness lying beneath the appearance that human existence is fleeting. This sense of connection is profound throughout the novel.

McFadden also develops Gathering of Waters with two key historical anchors: The Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927, and the murder of Emmett Till in the summer of 1955. Both events were devastating events, and both are tied to racism. That connection may seem clearer in the case of Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered at the age of 14 by white racists, who alleged that Emmett had whistled at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market in Money, Mississippi. Emmett’s body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River and later discovered, leading to a sensational trial, at which the defendants were acquitted. In spite of this miscarriage of justice, the extensive media coverage of the event brought the serious consequences of racism to the attention of the American public. The murder was one of many events leading to the development of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Great Flood of 1927 is another catastrophic event in US history that reveals the racism at the heart of American society. The flood disproportionately harmed the black communities living on the Mississippi delta, as they were not protected by government flood control policies, which were developed with big banks and industrial powers in minds. Levees themselves were first built by slaves, and later by black convicts and work gangs. (Black work gangs also were forced at gunpoint to reinforce levees as the waters rose during the floods of 1927.) In addition, local authorities along the Mississippi River had ensured that black communities were segregated into less desirable locations, including areas most likely to flood. Once the floods started, local authorities concentrated their resources on rescuing white families, leaving blacks to fend for themselves. Refugee camps were segregated, and the ones designated for blacks were poorly provisioned and rife with disease. (For more details, please see [b:Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America|49376|Rising Tide The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America|John M. Barry|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1170358675s/49376.jpg|48295].)

McFadden works these historical events into the fabric of her story, providing clear historical context for readers. The power in the novel, though, stems just as much, if not more, from McFadden’s beautiful descriptions of everyday life for the Hilson family, as it does from dramatic historical events. This is a story about the complex relationships and tensions passing from generation to generation, heightened by the brutal inequities of a racist society. At the same time, though, I was left with a strong sense of the salvation to be found in love, which also passes over time and space. McFadden’s incandescent prose underscores the wonder of first love, “To Tass, Emmett was everywhere and present in all things. He was all over her mind, pressed into the seams between the floorboards, glowing amidst the stars, and there in the sweet swirl of sugar, milk, and butter in her morning bowl of farina." (156) We see the love of true friends, outlasting time and distance. We share in the concerned (and sometimes exasperated) affection of adult children for their mother. And, most dramatically, in the novel’s climactic ending, we are left with a moving, and magical, example of the transcendence and timelessness of love.

This is a beautifully written novel, which embraces the magic of everyday life, and celebrates the permanence of souls. This is an important novel, for the ways in which it provides a perspective on America’s difficult past, while providing a way to understand past, present, and future, not in abstract terms, but in the most human terms possible. This is a novel that I hope you read, and hold close to you, and pass on to others. ( )
  KrisR | Mar 30, 2013 |
Set in Mississippi during the early 20th Century, Gathering of Waters is a fantastical story of several generations of a family of black women who live in the small town of Money. Told from the point of view of the town itself, the family and indeed the town itself is haunted by the vengeful ghost Esther, who was a prostitute.

Gathering of Waters is highly unique, totally riveting and a very fast, very engaging read. Personally I found it a bit jarring how the author worked in the death of Emmett and Till and even Hurricane Katrina into the story. As Emmett Till and the Katrina are not fictional, but fact and are such famous and tragic moments in American history, it just felt somehow unsettling to have them featured in this story, in the way that they were. That Emmett Till was somehow a victim of this enraged ghost and that Katrina was a manifestation of it. To me it just felt wrong and I can't help but feel that for me it would have been a better story had the author used a fictional character and natural disaster in place of these real ones. ( )
  queencersei | Feb 23, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A beautifully constructed novel that hinges on the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. Around this real-life event, McFadden weaves a historic, supernatural, and epic story of a town and its families. This isn't a book that I feel I can do justice with a simple plot description since there is so much more to it than what happens. McFadden's writing style is the perfect mix of plain and poetic, and the easy incorporation of spiritual and magical elements into everyday life is reminiscent of Toni Morrison in all the best ways. I really liked this one.

[full review here: http://spacebeer.blogspot.com/2013/01/gathering-of-waters-by-bernice-mcfadden.ht... ] ( )
  kristykay22 | Jan 9, 2013 |
I finished it but I didn’t like it. She spent too much time on the families in the beginning and they were only to get to the Emmitt Till story. I liked the narrator being the town. I also liked the writing but not so much the story or that she brought in magic at the end. 3/6/12 ( )
  peggygillman | Oct 12, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I have very mixed feelings about this book.

I loved McFadden's use of language, I loved the intricate plots and subplots, and the way she developed her characters. Her use of the city of Money, Mississippi as a narrator was brilliant.

That was why I was so disappointed in her last page. After pages of this beautiful, magical prose, the last 2 paragraphs felt like I'd been hit over the head. The book ended like one of Aesop's fables, with the narrator telling us exactly what we were suppose to glean from the pages, and so just as suddenly the magic disappeared. The character development no longer mattered because ..... well, you read it and figure it out ( )
  sdunford | Aug 16, 2012 |
Sometimes a book that you are reluctant to read turns out to be a real surprise. Always reading the same type of book gives you a happy sense of familiarity but it doesn't stretch your reading assumptions in any way. Bernice McFadden's Gathering of Waters is definitely a different book than my usual reads and it pushed me in ways that things that are immediately appealing to me don't always do.

Narrated by the town of Money, Mississippi, the town where Emmett Till was murdered, this novel purports to tell the stories of people and place that led up to that terrible, nation changing event and the stories of those left broken in the wake of the tragedy. Opening with an explanation of the concept of animism, the idea that everything in this world is inhabited by souls, some benevolent and others malevolent, which move on to other bodies, animate and inanimate, when their shells die or are destroyed, the novel draws a straight line through characters, material things, and events predicated on this belief. Then introducing the family around whose lives the narrative swirls, the town recedes into the generational story of the Hilson family and starts its march to the tragedy of Emmett Till's short life and on far past it to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina.

This is a quick and compelling read that swirls with questions of inborn goodness and evil and of fate threaded through with a history of racial tension and civil rights. Although the cover blurb focuses on the murder of Emmett Till, the novel is much more expansive than just this single event which, in fact, doesn't occur until quite late in the novel. The narration of the town of Money didn't totally work, not least because allowing Money to continue the tale in Chicago thanks to the potted flower that Tass takes with her was a stretch, although the continued narration of Tass' life up north was certainly necessary to the plot. But over all, this not easily categorized novel was gripping and rich. ( )
  whitreidtan | Aug 13, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I found the book "Gathering of Waters" to be engaging and evocative. The story is narrated by the town of Money Mississippi, which allows the view point to be from several places at once. The town relates it's history from the beginning of the 1900s to the winds and waters of Katrina and covers Emmett Till's murder and other atrocities of the Jim Crow era. I was disturbed that the evil spirit that invaded the towns people was made to be at fault for the murder of Emmett, preferring that the blame be rested squarely on the men who committed the murder and the society that allowed it. This is the first book that I read by McFaddden and i will look for more. ( )
2 vote joyceBl | Aug 9, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I stayed up until 4:00 a.m. this morning reading this look. I was tired but I couldn't set it down. I am almost ashamed to admit that I had not heard of Bernice McFadden before reading this. I have an intense love for Black women's literature. I am overjoyed that I have finally found her and that she has an impressive body of work out there for me to dig into! I was skeptical about the book at first because I am a history geek and feel weird about history being used in fiction but McFadden brought a beautiful magic to Emmett Till's story. I do feel that her story went way too easy on Bryant and Milam, and by extension those whites who participated in terrorism against Black communities under Jim Crow. It just lets them off easy to explain their bloodlust with magical realism. The fact is that it was ordinary human beings who tortured and murdered their fellow human beings. We can't let them off the hook. I am also really conflicted about Esther and the use of her spirit as the cause of so much sorrow. It feels a little victim blaming.
I'm not otherwise opposed to the use of magic or history here. It's a great story. I'd also like to mention that Akashic has produced a physically beautiful book here, especially for a paperback. Really nice. ( )
  amberalicia | Jun 14, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
McFadden's novel takes it title from "many gathering of waters," the translation for the Choctaw word Mississippi. The tale of Gathering of Waters is narrated by the town of Money, Mississippi, most noted for the slaying of Emmett Till in 1955. While Emmett is at the center of the novel, the novel sweeps through the entire 20th century with the history of the Hilson family who settled in Money after the race riots in Tulsa in 1921.

While I loved the first two-thirds of this novel leading up to the climactic death of Emmett Till, the last third seemed to dwindle away in a somewhat cliched denouement. ( )
  janeajones | Jun 8, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This story took a variety of turns but still managed to have a cohesive storyline.
Set in Money, Mississippi, it is the story of several generations who lived in the town tying in many significant events that happened between 1900 and 2005, including a massive flood in 1927, the racially motivated murder of Emmett Till in 1955, and ending with Hurricane Katrina. While these events are very dark times in history, McFadden also adds an element of magic to the story that allows lightness to shine through.
  Deedledee | Jun 1, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I truly enjoyed this book. The story as told by the town it was written about, a voice not oft heard, is told in mystical, delicate, detail. The characters evolve and breathe life into this novel. I love McFadden's style of writing that is both blunt and poetic at times. ( )
1 vote xrayedgrl | May 28, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The release of a new book from Bernice has become an event. It's like eagerly waiting for the new music from your favorite artist, or the premiere of the latest Spike Lee joint. For me, this is the rarefied air she has entered. I said in a previous review, "I can't understand for the life of me, why Bernice is not perennially on best sellers list." I guess, it is incumbent on those of us who love her writing, love the way she turns a phrase and her very vibrant and imaginative storytelling, to sing her praises to everyone we meet.

In Gathering of Waters, the writing is once again extraordinary. It was quite impressive the way she incorporated the Emmitt Till murder into the story. It was both brave, delicate and necessary. You can't write a book, with Money, Ms as a narrator and not deal with the most horrific event in that towns' history. She handles it deftly and respectfully. You can really feel the characters in this novel, and everything is handled in such a way, that the historical story she tells is quite believable. The connecting of past to present and how one impacts the other is on clear display here. That is an important lesson for people to learn, and Bernice is teaching it well through a piece of exceptional fiction. ( )
1 vote DawsonOakes | May 22, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was a wonderfully wrought story which delved into the world of a family line in the prescient town of Money, Mississippi. There is something magical that moves through the entire length of the narrative, and I appreciated the mix of the fantastical and worldly. I read this book quite quickly - its size is deceptive and the story moves along at a quick pace. In fact, that was the main thing I disliked - I wished more time and attention had been taken with the characters. It seemed that just as we got to know them a little bit, they were gone. People's motives were spelled out because they were in and out of the story so quickly and if we had lingered on them longer, their actions would have seemed somehow more natural. ( )
  carmelitasita29 | May 22, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Fast, emotional read. Better review to come. ( )
  kaledrina | May 14, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This novel was outstanding. I like that “Money” was a fly on the wall of 3 generations of a family, following the troubled spirit of Ester. This story has very strong heroines. Doll, who had Ester’s spirit within her, was very troubled. It was as if she was the only character that Ester’s spirit entered who had small bouts of her true self show through. They were far and few between which made it quite easy to dislike her and how she treated her daughter, Hemmingway.

With a mother like Doll, Hemmingway had no choice but to grow up quick, which made her seem like a cold individual. Hemmingway managed to become a mother due to “immaculate conception” (according to the town folk). She had a daughter named Tess who fell in love with Emmitt Till.

By this time, Ester’s spirit had been living though a white man who had died in a flood as a young child but was brought back to life by Ester’s sinister spirit. Ester’s spirit turned that boy/man into a blood thirsty murderer who was only happy when killing human beings (or did her spirit just make his nature worse?).

Two years after Emmitt’s murder, Tess agreed to marry, moved to Detroit and had 12 children. All the while, Emmitt’s spirit followed, unbeknown to her. When she was 62, she headed back to Mississippi to finally sell her mothers home, where she eventually died in her sleep and was reconnected with her first love, Emmitt Till. This was in the Summer of 2005, just as Katrina rolled in….

I read this book over the weekend and could not put it down until it was done. GREAT story telling from a GREAT story teller. Highly recommended. ( )
  lizamichelle1 | May 14, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a very fast read and very enjoyable. I read it, at work, over the course of several hours. I found myself interested in nearly all of the characters and wondered how the author would tie them all together. Before I knew it all loose ends were firmly knotted and the book was over. One of my favorites so far this year! ( )
  Clerdly | May 13, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Wonderfully worded and crafted. The story has a very well put together flow about it. It was an enjoyable enough book that I could recommend it to people- if any of the people I know express interest in this type of story. ( )
  joyfiction | Apr 30, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Gathering of Waters
Bernice L. McFadden
Akashic Books

In 'Gathering of Waters' Bernice McFadden tells the story of Emmett Till by following the destructive path of one particularly vicious soul through time. McFadden's writing reaches out and grabs the reader, t he pleasure of reading the first chapter, where the narrator (the soul of Money, Mississippi) describes all the bodies her soul has lived in, is almost physical and the writing stays strong throughout.
The growing depravity of the soul of Esther the Whore is the driving force behind most of the evil that happens to the Hilson family and those close to them, including Emmet Till.

When I came to the chapter dealing with the death of Emmett, I put the book down for week. I've seen pictures of Emmet Till's body and I had to work up the courage to read a description of how it got that way, but McFadden handled the murder itself almost gently. While the reader will definitely feel the tension and dread leading up to and through the murder there is no Tarantino like wallowing in the violence. Thankfully, the book doesn't end with Till's death and the ending strikes a tender hopeful tone. Definitely recommended.
1 vote yolana | Apr 28, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Gathering of Waters is a mystical, eerie, captivating fictional story of Emmett Till, his famous murder in 1955, and the characters of Money, Mississippi, told by the soul of Money. The story flows wonderfully, I was captivated without stumble until the final few chapters, when Tass comes back to Money and things change for her. I wasn’t sure at first that I liked it, but it soon fit.
This is an edgy book also in that it brings back so well the hatred, but also the beauty, from that time in our history. Bernice McFadden writes masterfully, reminding me of Toni Morrison’s writing. I received this through Librarything.com giveaways, and I loved this book! This would make a great book club read ( )
  EllenH | Apr 28, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I don't know what to say about this book that hasn't already been said. It's about Emmett Till, but he doesn't show up until the last fifty pages. It's about a town, and traces a family line through history in Mississippi. The language is quite evocative, and the story affecting.
  sduff222 | Apr 28, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I have never read any of Bernice McFadden's books, but after reading her latest, "Gathering of Waters" I am a fan. It is so beautifully written that it was like sitting back and listening to a great storyteller. At times blunt and disturbing, at others almost magical. A great book.
  phlegmmy | Apr 28, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Ick. Beautifully written, and I wanted to love it. Perhaps I would've liked it better if the lynching of Emmett Till had been replaced by a made-up lynching. Once she got to the hard historic facts, the writing style seemed to make a shift. It wasn't well woven with the rest of the book. Furthermore, I disagree completely with the premise of the book. Stop reading now if you think you are going to read it. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: The book seems to be trying to say something about female sexuality and male violence, and to me is a form of denial or shifting the blame from where it belongs to some primordial force. IMHO, the blame for Emmett Till's death belongs to three specific individuals and a town/time with police-condoned racism, not some angry spirit that flows through the world looking for sex, power and blood. I can deal with ghosts. I liked the Animism. However, when you shift the blame of Emmett Till's murder to the spirit of some dead whore, I'm not buying it. ( )
2 vote cammykitty | Apr 25, 2012 |
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