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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

by Ayana Mathis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,2919110,323 (3.54)47
In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation.… (more)
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» See also 47 mentions

English (89)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (91)
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
Compelling, but more so in the early stories than in the later ones. Maybe because the unrelenting hardship and misery get harder to take in. I guess I shouldn't expect happiness in a book with an Oprah's book club sticker on it. ( )
  elenaj | Jul 31, 2020 |
I adored this book. It stayed with me, and remains with me, six years later. I read it together with Oral History and Bastard Out of Carolina. It is up there with The Help. For those of us with white privilege, this is a must-read. She is a great story-teller, like Amy Tan, Khalid Hosseini and Jeanette Walls. And Kate Atkinson. And Ishiguru. These are my favorite authors, incidentally. Also, Lisa See. ( )
  NATCHAT1958 | May 17, 2020 |
I'm finding it difficult to know exactly how I feel about this book. Most of it is well-written, but I personally just could not engage with it. Perhaps that is a reflection on me rather than the book itself.

This is not so much a novel as a series of short stories, the central character of each being a different member of Hattie Shepherd's family. Hattie herself married beneath her, to a serial womaniser, who nevertheless managed to find time to get Hattie pregnant a dozen times. With her no-good husband barely bringing enough money, and after losing her first children to pneumonia, Hattie's spirit and love are exhausted by the very act of keeping them alive and fed. The rest of the book then demonstrates, through the stories of her children's lives, how Hattie's attitude affected her children's lives.

It's all very worthy, an I feel that I am supposed to adore this book, but I have to confess, after the first couple of chapters I was feeling slightly that I'd got the point, and didn't need another 8 chapters on how terrible and shockingly depressing life can be. The structure of the book also meant that I never really felt fully engaged with the characters. Hattie is the only constant, the others come and go and are, as a result, developed in only one-dimension. ( )
  TheEllieMo | Jan 18, 2020 |
Fine writing alternates with increasingly depressing episodes in life of Hattie and her children.

Kids are introduced, then readers hear little about their lives, giving a feeling of isolation rather than continuity and little or no redemption or resolution.

Though Hattie is finally described, both by herself and some of her children, as a cold and distant mother,
after recovering from the deaths of her twins, she offers plenty of early love and protection so this assessment feels odd. ( )
  m.belljackson | Oct 9, 2019 |
Too disjointed for me, I never felt like I was getting anywhere with this book.....maybe that was the point? ( )
  LizBurkhart | Sep 5, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie attempts to show the warping of the dreams of black Americans who hoped to find a better life in the urban North. This means not only must it bear the pressure of Ms. [Oprah] Winfrey's endorsement, but must also withstand comparisons to two of the epochoal works of American fiction, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Toni Morrison's linked trilogy Beloved, Jazz and Paradise (to say nothing of William Attaway's equally brilliant but underappreciated Blood on the Forge). Few debuts could survive this kind of scrutiny, and Ms. [Ayana] Mathis's doesn't come close. The numerous strands of the plot only sporadically and arbitrarily connect to one another, and Ms. Mathis lacks the skills that a more seasoned author might have to impose a narrative authority on them.
added by sgump | editWall Street Journal, Sam Sacks (Dec 10, 2012)
 
...
Ms. Mathis has a remarkable ability, however, to inject the most agonizing events with a racking sense of verisimilitude. The chapter in which Hattie desperately tries to keep her ailing twins alive (staying up with them for three nights in a row, making mustard poultices, walking in circles with them in her arms in a steam-filled bathroom) and the one in which she makes the agonizing decision to let her well-to-do sister in Georgia adopt her last child, Ella, in order to give the baby a better life, have an excruciating intimacy that makes us feel we are reliving events in our own families’ lives.
...
 

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ayana Mathisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Damsma, HarmTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dyall, SharonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Happe, FrançoisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Höbel, SusanneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miedema, NiekTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ottosson, MetaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palmer, MagdalenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scocchera, GiovannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
All of you came to me and said, "let us send men ahead

of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report to

us regarding the route by which we should go up and the

cities we will come to."

  The plan seemed good to me, and I selected twelve of

you, one from each tribe.

-------------Deuteronomy 1:22-23
The house, shut up like a pocket watch,

those tight hearts breathing inside----

she could never invent them.

-------Rita Dove, "Obedience"
Dedication
For my mother

and for Grandmom

and Grandpop
First words
"Philadelphia and Jubilee!"  August said when Hattie told him what she wanted to name their twins.
Quotations
I don't know what's wrong with me.  It's not like I don't know I'm doing wrong or like I'm powerless to stop myself.   I just do what I'm going to do, despite what it will cost me.   After, I'm truly sorry.  I regret almost everything I've ever done, but I don't suppose that makes any difference.  ("Franklin," pp.171-172)
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In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation.
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