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Raisins in Milk by David Covin

Raisins in Milk

by David Covin

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
4 stars.

A fast-moving, but grim account of an African American couple living in the South during the early twentieth century and facing the violence of white racism in its extreme forms.

David Covin is Professor Emeritus of Government and Ethnic Studies at California State University at Sacramento and Co-Editor of the National Political Science Review. His activism began with the Civil Rights Movement in the South in the 1960s, and in the subsequent establishment of Black Studies in universities. In addition, he has continued to be active and respected for his ongoing achievements in academia and civil society. He has published numerous books and articles in the scholarly press in addition to novels and accounts for the general public.

Covin’s drama-filled Raisins in Milk is primarily the story of a young woman growing up and falling in love with the man of her dreams. Together they work to earn enough money to move north where they correctly assume that racism, while still present, will be less virulent. The book quickly reminds us that the “Jim Crow South” of the early twentieth century was far worse than the segregated water fountains. The atrocities, like the ones Covin describes, really did happen. Even if they seldom all happened in the same family, blacks lived under the constant knowledge they and their loved ones could be the ones attacked. If anything is hard to believe in the book, it is the safety and power one clan of African Americans had been able to create.

My problem with the book is the repeated emphasis on the need of black men for ‘manhood,’ even if the cost is death. I realize that black men needing to prove themselves as men has been a theme in civil rights, particularly in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in which Covin was active. I only hope that black men can find a better goal than a martyrdom which leaves black women with all the responsibility for the children. Hopefully “Black Lives Matter” provides a slogan around which women and men can unite.

For some people, it is still easy to downplay the extreme violence that African Americans have faced in the past and continue to face today. That is why this book is important. I recommend it widely to a variety of readers; black and white, young and old, male and female. ( )
  mdbrady | Sep 18, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I started this, but couldn't get further than a few pages before I put it down again. The story sounds interesting, but the writing style is not to my taste and could do with some refinement to be less confusing. ( )
  mooingzelda | Jun 12, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In his introduction, Covin stated that Toni Morrison read this manuscript in 1977. He claimed she loved the story but told him the “characters seem thinner and more conventional then they are”. Covin said he spent the intervening years addressing that issue.
Sadly, I don’t think Covin accomplished this. The story follows Ruth-Ann from her girlhood into motherhood. However, she remains flat. We are told she is intelligent, but she never behaves as such. The other characters, with perhaps the exception of Stephen, are caricatures, stereotypes, of characters – the Mammy, the Dominating Mother, the Black Female Healer, the Nice White Family, the Racist White Drunk, the Lynch Mob, the Loyal Black Servant, etc. Stephen as a bit more depth, but only barely, and he stays mostly in-line with the others.
This might have been overcome if the narrative had sense. But it felt more like vignettes, a patchwork of half-formed prose, as if the author could never decide which direction he wished the story to go. Characters were introduced and given prominent roles in the narrative for a few chapters only to completely disappear. Other characters were introduced as passing names to later surface as pivotal points. This created a disjointed narrative that failed to hold the interest of the reader. Just as you would get into the plot, it would shift, leaving the reader lost.
Additionally, the story made no use of the setting. Covin failed to capture Florida at the turn-of-the-century, or even, Florida at all. This could have taken place in any town in the Deep South with no noticeable change. Good writing makes the setting as vital to the story as any character or plot. Florida is a unique land, strange and magical, that shapes the people who live under her bright burning sun. While I cannot speak to Covin’s life, it felt as if he had never truly been to Florida. He failed to capture to splendid harshness and vast beauty of that land.
Covin’s work never rises about bland mediocrity, settling to use fancy prose and clichéd stereotypes as plot points. He could have done much with the concept, but sadly, even time could not improve the story read by Ms. Morrison so long ago.

Note: I received this book free through LibraryThing's Early Review Program, in exchange for my fair and honest opinion ( )
  empress8411 | Feb 12, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is a coming of age story that follows a bright young woman, Ruth Ann, into her early 20s. Ruth Ann grows up in the Jim Crow South. She experiences love, marriage, and motherhood.

Ruth Ann experiences racism and violence. It's a portrayal of the reality of life that doesn't glamorize genteel Southern manners. The action of the story is uncomfortable, raw, and hurtful. ( )
  MNTreehugger | Feb 12, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The book deserves credit for carrying over the themes of a lot of older African-American fiction, like race and gender and their intersection. It is reminiscent of Their Eyes of Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston or alternatively The Color Purple by Alice Walker. The speech might be the most impressive.

However, the actual novel doesn't live up to its predecessors. It's cluttered and tries be vibrant, but ends up uninteresting nonetheless and maybe a bit confusing. The concept is there, but the execution's not. ( )
  ennedroC | Feb 9, 2018 |
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