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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (edition 2012)

by Ayana Mathis

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7907211,626 (3.56)35
Title:The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Authors:Ayana Mathis
Info:Knopf (2012), Kindle Edition, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:African Americans, families

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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis


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Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
This is a wonderful book and a very compelling read. The story revolves around Hattie Shepherd who moves from Georgia to Philadelphia at 15 in the 1920s with her mother. Pregnant, she marries August Shepherd at 16 and gives birth to twins. Her story turns tragic when the twins die of pneumonia in her arms when they are just 6 months old. Hattie can't shake the resulting anger and sadness which follows her until old age. Meanwhile she and August have several more children. We witness their inabilities to love and form relationships because of Hattie's own incapacities for love and kindness. The twelve chapters deal with different children and siblings and each character is really well developed. I would like to know what eventually happened to everyone and in some cases, there is an inkling of the outcomes but nothing definite. A sequel would be nice ( )
  MaggieFlo | Mar 8, 2015 |
oof. this is such a tough, sad state of affairs. this family is broken, each person within it deeply wounded, struggling with demons. mathis' writing is terrific, but i feel disappointed in the structure. this novel is more like a collection of short stories - each chapter a vignette of the life of one (or two, in some cases) of hattie's children. i thought many of them were good, and perhaps this was to add to the 'fractured whole' of it all, but i found it just didn't work well for me. it often felt too abrupt and incomplete.

(aside: as i was reading, i was also wondering about MFA programs, feeling mathis must have attended one. she did. iowa!! i don't know what this means in the context of my review but i find this interesting. sometimes i feel odd when i can gauge an author's writing background based on style, i am conflicted about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but i worry that MFA fiction programs are allowing their students to lose what may be unique about their style, and asking or pushing them to conform to something else. anyway...)

mathis' characters are very interesting, but i felt some voices blended in with others, while some were much more distinct. if you are a sensitive, empathetic reader, this book will probably leave you feeling very melancholy. there is not a lot of hope in this book. i was left feeling this family will never escape all of their varied anguish, and the cycle will perpetuate. the twelve tribes of hattie - her 12 children - were given a heavy load in life. the parents, august and hattie, begin the book so young (hattie's 16 with newborn twins). one prolonged tragic moment sets the tone for the rest of their lives. hope and light have been sucked out of this family. i am glad i read this book, but my heart and brain are going to need a couple of days to recover. ( )
  DawsonOakes | Feb 4, 2015 |
I received this book from a Goodreads firstreads giveaway.

I'm not a fan of short stories, and never really have been. Mostly, I dislike them because the beginning of a book is always the hardest for me - learning and remembering names, characters, locations, etc. I prefer the meat of a novel, and short stories usually don't have any meat - they are snapshots of a time in a character's life.

This novel felt like a series of short stories. Each chapter was about another child of Hattie's, but that child was very rarely (if ever) mentioned throughout the rest of the book. Not one child was in a sibling's story. So during each chapter, it felt like starting all over again, learning the character, etc. And one chapter was not enough for me to connect with the character. There wasn't a point in the book where I really cared about what happened to the character, because I knew they wouldn't be mentioned again.

If you enjoy short stories, this novel is well written. There is power in the author's language and I would try another novel written by her. Out of this one though, I wish there had been more connection among the characters. ( )
  carebear10712 | Dec 31, 2014 |
I feel like I should be giving this novel a higher score than 2/5 solely because it was extremely well written. But I feel that would be disingenuous because I really didn't enjoy the content of the book.

Oh, Hattie. How could someone have some much misery befall them and their family. I guess when you put any family's life under the microscope you'll be able to dig up their miserable dirt on the same scale. But what I don't understand is why an author would want to make the central theme of their work inescapable unhappiness. We never get to see those shining moments between Hattie and Lawrence that Bell mentions, or find out if Pearl ever gets the family she longs for. It is true that life is not happy, that there are hardships around every corner. But hope also exists and I wish we would have seen a bit more of it in these glimpses into the lives of these characters.

If you enjoy a fairly bleak read, I'd recommend this to you. Though you may find yourself needlessly depressed by the time you finish the last page. ( )
  plaeski | Dec 16, 2014 |
This somber novel tells the stories of a woman named Hattie who migrates from Georgia to Philadelphia in the 1920s, and her subsequent life and that of her children. The novel is a series of connected stories, each focusing on a different child from dates ranging from the 1920s to 1980s. The family perseveres against poverty, racism, mental illness and internal strife. I found it a well-written story that approaches family life and the African-American experience from different angles. The audiobook is also well-performed with different narrators reading stories from the different children's perspectives. ( )
  Othemts | Oct 28, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 71 (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.
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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"
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.
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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Book description
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.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385350287, Hardcover)

Exclusive: Amazon Asks Ayana Mathis

Oprah and Ayana MathisOprah with Ayana Mathis, author of Book Club 2.0's December 2012 selection, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.

Q. Describe Oprah's Book Club 2.0® in one sentence (or, better yet, in 10 words).

A. An impassioned and powerful declaration: Books matter.

Q. What's on your bedside table or Kindle?

A. I'm often reading three or four things at a time, so I invent odd categories to keep them straight. The bedside table is home to read before-bed-but-not-on-the-subway books (heavy hardcovers like Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies), mysteries/thrillers (like Robert Wilson's A Small Death in Lisbon) and things I ought to read but are slooow going (I am now on my fifth month with Augustine's The City of God).

Q. Top three to five favorite books of all time?

A.Very hard to answer! Beloved by Toni Morrison; The Known World by Edward P. Jones; Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson; The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner; Cane by Jean Toomer.

Q. Important book you never read?

A. Ulysses. And also Portrait of a Lady, which shames me.

Q. Book that changed your life (or book that made you want to become a writer)?

A. I wrote throughout my childhood and thought I wanted to be a poet, but that was more a fantasy than a goal. I was 15 when someone gave me Sonia Sanchez's, I've Been a Woman—that book was a revolution in my life. I realized that I actually could be a poet, that there were black women who were writing--right then, in that moment.

Q. Memorable author moment?

A. This one? I'm so new to being an author (distinctly different from the solitary enterprise of being a writer) that every moment is unforgettable and stunning.

Q. What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

A. Anything Wonder Woman can do! Roping bad guys with a lasso of truth, deflecting bullets with my bracelets! Of course, I'd trade all of that for mindreading.

Q. What are you currently stressed about or psyched about?

A. I'm psyched about writing some essays on the nature of faith and belief. Writing essays is a very different process from writing fiction. I'm having a hard time with them, which is incredibly exhilarating and incredibly stressful.

Q. What's your most treasured possession?

A. My grandfather's diaries. He kept them secretly for over fifty years and gave them to me a few years before he died.

Q. Pen envy--book you wish you'd written?

A. Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah or Yusef Komunyakaa's Magic City.

Q. Who's your current author crush?

A. Eudora Welty. There's never a wasted word in her short stories; so much power and meaning packed into a few short pages.

Q. What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

A. That's an embarrassingly long list: clothes shopping online, returning clothes I've bought online, cooking elaborate time-consuming dinners, farmer's markets, Netflix Instant (grrr, it's ruining my life).

Q. What do you collect?

A. Ways to procrastinate.

Q. Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

A. Oh dear. I've never gotten any. I'm feeling a little inadequate now.

Q. What's next for you?

A. Trying to find a way into my second novel, the idea is there but the rest isn't. Right now it's a bit like stumbling around in a dark room.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:58 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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