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Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange

Some Sing, Some Cry

by Ntozake Shange, Ifa Bayeza

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This book follows seven generations of a Black-American family AND Black-American music AND American history from slavery, the Reconstruction, WW1, the flu epidemic, the flappers, the Depression, WW2, the Vietnam war all the way through to the 21st Century. 568 pages or 26 and 1/2 hours of listening time. The book tries to do too much. Black-American music as it evolves is also reviewed: gospel, jazz, R&B, swing, bebop AND classical music. All the musical top names are sited. You cannot do all of this in depth. On top of all the names and historical events you follow a family. Is this a story about a family, where we are to care for all the characters, aunts and uncles and grandparents and generation after generation of children? What author can pull all this off? I loved Lizzie. The author really brought her personality to life for me, but this did not happen with any other character. When I was living life with Lizzie that is when I loved the book. The things she said!!!!

The book is written by two sisters. They split the book into eight sections, each writing four. I did not notice a difference in the writing! Ntozake Shange had several strokes and had to stop for five years, while her sister continued, but she liked to do thorough historical research and trips to the places where the story is set: Harlem, Chicago, Paris, and Charleston. Charleston breathed and maybe Harlem too, but certainly not Paris! Both sisters are playwrights. Reading this book is like going to the theater. You see, hear and even smell through the depiction of foods…….but you don’t get under the skin of the characters or a deep understanding of history. You get a smattering. Oh yeah, drugs are thrown in too! The picture had to be accurate.

The audiobook is narrated by Robin Miles. Many, many songs are sung and for most she does an excellent job, BUT some went wrong. Classical music is not her forte. Southern and Irish dialects she masters superbly, but p-l-e-a-s-e her French is just not up to mark. And she does not successfully imitate Edith Piaf! So there we are in France during WW2. In one chapter the Résistance is “covered”. Do you understand? There is in every way too much included in this book. Nobody can pull all this off successfully.

I still liked the book! I loved the part centered on Lizzie. There is also a theme on the importance of family, which I enjoyed, of how mothers and daughters have SUCH a hard time communicating!

What is the book trying to say about Black-American music and in fact all music in general?
“Music is just another way of keepin up with livin. Nothin wrong with that!”(chapter 4)

Completed May 23, 2013 ( )
1 vote chrissie3 | May 23, 2013 |
Beginning with the end of the Civil War, it is a multi generational saga of an African American family, and a good piece of American history as well. The intermingling of American musical history gave the story added depth. As is to be expected of a book of this scope, there is a huge number of characters. I was surprised how easily I kept track of them all. The dominant force in the story is the women. All the women are strong, determined and passionate. I was occasionally frustrated with the earlier generations - these incredible, smart, strong women constantly falling for the wrong man - the men continually a disappointment. Finally, Cinnamon (5th generation) breaks the cycle and picks a consistently stable man. She is also the first woman in the line since the story begins who is not raped and left to deal with the results the best she could.
I absolutely loved the way the authors dealt with the history of racism from Reconstruction through the present. I thought they were very down to earth and balanced in their treatment of an extremely sensitive subject. Having just read a book - [Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black and White] on the subject - I was really pleased to see many references in the story to black politicians and leaders from Civil War times to the present. I especially liked the line used in the section on the Civil Rights movement "I hear tell that during Reconstruction colored folks voted fine as a summer day. Had plenty of colored representatives - congressmen, even senators."

I did have a hard time getting into the book I struggled for the first 150-200 pages, but after that, it was hard to put down. The language was beautiful, the story was interesting, but I kept hitting speed bumps. After reading Shange's "Note on the Composition" I think I understand why. Each sister wrote sections of the book, trading off. While the transitions were not distinct, I think it was enough of a style change to throw me off a bit. That along with the fact that both writers are playwrights, required a different style of reading. The book really is more sensory, it is probably fabulous when read aloud. Once I started to see pictures of the characters and hear them talking (sadly, about when they left the South and went North), it got easier. ( )
3 vote nittnut | Jan 7, 2011 |
I sang and I cried through this book -- and I have started it again as soon as I finished it the first time.. This novel is the history of an African American family from slavery through the civil rights movement. The audio novel is captures the music that colored the lives of these women ,,, primarily women. .The language is as musical as the actual songs. Sometimes, the novel is in third person, and other times in first person with so much pain that I listened with tears on my face. These authors also wrote "for colored girls ..." and this novel is a fitting follow-up. I recommend this book wholeheartedly. The one exception is the adult language and adult situations. which are appropriate to the plot but people need to be aware in advance. ( )
  BarbaraHouston | Oct 9, 2010 |
I almost gave up on this book halfway through; I actually did take a break for a couple of weeks. I am so glad I went back and finished it.

This is the multigenerational saga of an African American family, descended from both slaves and plantation owners in the Gullah islands of South Carolina. The authors themselves are of Gullah heritage, and I think that certainly lends a very authentic feel to the novel. The novel begins with the end of slavery and ends with the present day. Of necessity, it is long-- nearly 600 pages. Music and language help to tell the story not only of the family but of a piece of African American history. The authors have carefully studied the vernacular of the time, and the characters' way of speaking changes as time progresses, and as characters move from country to city and even cross oceans. Music, too, evolves with the times and provides a backdrop for two wars and the civil rights movement. The prose itself is often rhythmic and musical.

The first half of the novel moves much slower than the second. About halfway through it felt a bit plodding so I put it down. I came back to it with some reluctance but once World War I and the Jazz Age hit, the pace picked up phenomenally and I couldn't put it down.

What's most impressive about this novel, is that the family and culture itself becomes the main character. With a multigenerational saga, there is no single person who serves as a main character. I thought this would be a sticking point for me, as character development is vital to me in a story. But in spite of the short relationships with each character, I felt a deep connection to the family and to the larger themes that they represented in the novel. Most fascinating was the exploration of how various characters responded to slavery, oppression, racism, and other themes-- as the title states, "some sing, some cry." The intergenerational themes that arose within the family were also quite compelling.

This is a refreshing and unique family saga, different due to the focus on music and vernacular, and the shifting language in the novel, that serve to really connect the reader to that particular time period and culture. If you can stick with it through the slower parts, the rewards are well worth the effort. ( )
  Litfan | Sep 19, 2010 |
Starting shortly after the emancipation of the slaves, this fictitious family saga begins on the Sweet Tamarind plantation on one of the Carolina islands and covers seven generations as well as a good part of the world.

Mah Bette considered herself wife to her master, Julius Mayfield, even as she was his slave, and she bore his children. This is the story of her life after emancipation and the lives of the generations that followed her. It is also a story of America and the ongoing battle for race equality.

If you are looking for a fast-paced action adventure, this is probably not the book for you. If you are looking for an insightful tale of family, of struggles, and of victories, read on. The characters are very human, believable, and likeable, flaws and all. The authors did a wonderful job of describing the settings and the atmosphere of the times. While the book is fiction, inclusion of historical figures and events make this a story everyone can relate to. And throughout the story, there is song, there is music, always tying the family together.

Initially, the dialect was hard for me to read, but that became easier as I got used to reading it and as the dialect changed with time to something that is more familiar to me. Ifa Bayeza included an interesting note explaining why the vernacular was written as it was. There were possibly a couple of anachronisms, like the use of duct tape in the 1920s. And were records made of “plastic” in the 20s? I don't know, it wouldn't be the first time I've been wrong.

The book is beautifully written. There is a quote that I found especially powerful in the Advanced Readers' Edition, but it may not be the same in the final published version:

They'd seen this look before. On the faces of Max Schmeling fans as the Brown Bomber was defeated, on the nightly news footage of Little Rock, in the press coverage of Emmett Till's mother walking passed her son's killers, alternately smiling and snarling at her. The hatred their son had just described he now wore on his own face. It was the look of hatred so deep, there is no passion, like strangling a man and not breaking a sweat.

A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for review. ( )
1 vote TooBusyReading | Jul 31, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shange, Ntozakeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bayeza, Ifamain authorall editionsconfirmed
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To Mom & Dad / Eloise Owens Williams and Paul Towbin Williams, M.D. / Simply the best
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The first orange light of sunrise left a flush of rose and lavender on Betty's hands as she fingered the likenesses of her children.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031219899X, Hardcover)

Award-winning writer Ntozake Shange and real-life sister, award-winning playwright Ifa Bayeza achieve nothing less than a modern classic in this epic story of the Mayfield family. Opening dramatically at Sweet Tamarind, a rice and cotton plantation on an island off South Carolina's coast, we watch as recently emancipated Bette Mayfield says her goodbyes before fleeing for the mainland. With her granddaughter, Eudora, in tow, she heads to Charleston. There, they carve out lives for themselves as fortune-teller and seamstress. Dora will marry, the Mayfield line will grow, and we will follow them on an journey through the watershed events of America's troubled, vibrant history—from Reconstruction to both World Wars, from the Harlem Renaissance to Vietnam and the modern day. Shange and Bayeza give us a monumental story of a family and of America, of songs and why we have to sing them, of home and of heartbreak, of the past and of the future, bright and blazing ahead.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:53 -0400)

The story of emancipated slave Elizabeth Mayfield traces her rise as the matriarch of a family of musically gifted Southern women who overcome brutal obstacles while witnessing key moments in American history.

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