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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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7547012,315 (3.57)34
Title:The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Authors:Ayana Mathis
Info:Knopf (2012), Kindle Edition, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:African Americans, families

Work details

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Oprah's Book Club 2.0) by Ayana Mathis


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Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
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 |
The latest Oprah 2.0 book is a novel-in-stories about a woman who migrated to Philadelphia from George in 1923. The first story tells of the death of Hattie's twin infants from pneumonia. That their deaths were essentially caused by poverty sets up Hattie for a life of bitterness and anger about the failed promise of the North. Each subsequent story depicts one of Hattie's other children and the different ways they cope with life's struggles and with their difficult parents.

The book was an uneven reading experience for me. I do have trouble with this kind of structure, since the lack of a linear narrative makes it hard for me to remember things. A few of the stories were compelling, but overall there was so much misery that it started to read like a parody of an Oprah book. ( )
  CasualFriday | Oct 25, 2014 |
Excellent depiction of a black woman's struggle during the great migration north. In many ways, the story could speak to any woman at that time who had little control over her own life, particularly in bearing and rearing children. ( )
  ccayne | Oct 16, 2014 |
Short stories with a theme.

This struck me as a collection of well written essays on life in Philadelphia (and to a lesser extent, Georgia), post 1925, when 17 year-old Hattie moves north with her mother and sisters. Immediately the difference between living as a Black in The North, against staying in The South, is apparent to Hattie. They are no longer expected to walk off the pavement when a White passes, they are even spoken to cordially; it is an awakening for her. But this seems to be the only positive part of the book, for each of Hattie's children suffer endless problems in their lives, starting with the most heart-rending chapter of all, as Hattie nurses her two tiny babies as they fight pneumonia.

Hattie has not made a good marriage and although her husband loves the children, he repeatedly fails to provide for them. Hattie becomes hardened and practical, and the children remember little in the way of love or affection. One by one the youngsters pull away from the family into adulthood and more mistakes.

There is little that is upbeat about these stories and little connection between them, apart from the common parent. The descriptions of time and place were well written but the disconnect between each chapter did detract from the overall read.
Oprah's comments in my Kindle version, were interesting and irritating in equal measure, but I found I could not just ignore them.

3 1/2 stars. ( )
  DubaiReader | Sep 20, 2014 |
We meet Hattie Shepherd when she isn't more than a girl herself. Seventeen years old, she and her husband August have moved to Philadelphia with their twins Philadelphia and Jubilee. (Why are the babies named Philadelphia and Jubilee, you may wonder? Mathis tells us: "Hattie wanted to give her babies names that weren't already chiseled on a headstone in the family plots in Georgia, so she gave them names of promise and of home, reaching forward names, not looking back ones.) Away from her family, Hattie struggles to care for the babies when they get sick, and the picture that Mathis draws of Hattie sitting on the floor in a steaming bathroom, trying to help her babies breathe, is so vivid that it took me back to the times when I did the same with my babies. Mathis drops us right into Hattie's life, and this first chapter, like the other chapters that focus on her other children, is filled with emotion and heartbreak, hope and tragedy, real life. The chapters are connected only because each tells an episode from the life of one of Hattie's children, and it is through their lives that we come to know Hattie.

Hattie's life is not an easy one, but it is also not so different from many other lives of struggle. What sets this book apart is that Mathis is a sharp observer of Hattie's troubles and of the way that Hattie deals with them. In comparing her to the other women in her neighborhood, Mathis observes, "And of course the other women of Wayne Street had been wounded and chastened by the North, just as Hattie had been, but she was so insistent on the singularity of her disappointment she could not see she wasn't alone in her circumstance." Hattie's children often express frustration with Hattie, struggling to remember when she has shown them love. But as Hattie observes, "They didn't understand that all the love she had was taken up with feeding them and clothing them and preparing them to meet the world. The world would not love them; the world would not be kind."

I had put off reading this book after it got so much publicity from being selected for Oprah's Book Club. But Mathis is going to be at this year's Iowa City Book Festival, so that nudged me to read this now. And I am so glad that I did. Hattie is a strong and tough protagonist (reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge?), but it is Mathis's way of capturing Hattie's world that truly made this book stand out for me. One of my favorites of the year. ( )
1 vote porch_reader | Sep 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (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)

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