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A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines

A Gathering of Old Men (original 1983; edition 1992)

by Ernest J. Gaines (Author)

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Set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation in the 1970s, A Gathering of Old Men is a powerful depiction of racial tensions arising over the death of a Cajun farmer at the hands of a black man.
Title:A Gathering of Old Men
Authors:Ernest J. Gaines (Author)
Info:Vintage (1992), Edition: Reissue, 213 pages
Collections:Your library

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A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines (1983)


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I'm not quite sure where the recommendation to read (or in my case listen) to this book came from but it certainly was a good one. First published in 1983 there was a movie made from it in 1987 with some, at least now, notable names in main roles. This audiobook was recorded in 2008 with a cast of narrators to voice the main roles in the story. I think that was a good strategy since it clearly delineated the different characters.

The book is set in the 1970s on a sugar cane plantation in bayou country in Louisiana. Although it is called the Marshall plantation the cane production is carried out by a Cajun family,the Boutans. Candy Marshall is a 30 something white woman who looks after the black folk who still live in the slave quarters. She is particularly close to an old black widower named Mathu. When Candy discovers Beau Boutan shot dead in Mathu's yard she comes up with an idea. She sends word out to all the other old black men in the neighbourhood to show up at Mathu's place with a shotgun and one spent number 5 shell. When Sherriff Mapes shows up all of the men plus Candy claim that they shot Beau. The sherriff is pretty sure that Mathu is the guilty party but he wants to avoid a riot which is what he fears would happen if he tries to take Mathu into jail. He is also concerned that the local Ku Klux Klan, of which Beau and his father Fix were members, will "ride" and lynch Mathu. There are lots of strangers around because there is a big football game the next day between LSU and Mississippi. Beau's brother, Gil, is one of the stars of the LSU team; together with a black team member he is a good bet to become All-American. Gil knows that if there is a whiff of trouble involving his family his chances of that coveted designation go out the window. So there is a lot of racial tension and it seems like the situation could explode with the slightest spark.

We know since last summer that there is still a lot of tension between blacks and whites in the United States but I don't think most people would casually drop the "N" word in conversation now. And I hope that the Ku Klux Klan wouldn't ride to lynch people in the 21st century. So I guess there have been some improvements but it must be difficult to be black now, especially a black male, and realize that one's life could still be in danger because of the colour of their skin. It's disheartening to realize that this story is not that different from what could still happen almost 50 years later. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jul 14, 2021 |
A dead man. A running tractor. A white woman who claims she shot him. A gathering of old men with shotguns. A sheriff who knows everyone is lying. A father who needs revenge.

What is so marvelous about this work is that Gaines tells it from a variety of viewpoints, as different characters narrate chapters. Candy Marshall is the woman who owns the plantation that has been in her family for generations. It is she who spreads the word among those in “the Quarters” that the men need to show up at Mattu’s place. By the time Sheriff Mapes is called and arrives there are dozens of elderly black men, each with a fired shotgun, though many can barely hold the gun let alone aim and fire it with any accuracy. One by one they tell their stories of how and why they shot Beau Bouton.

Meanwhile Beau’s brother, Gil, comes home to meet with his father, Fix, who wants nothing more than to call up his group of Klansmen to “take care of this problem.” It is Fix’s arrival that the group of old men is awaiting. One by one they tell their stories of how and why they shot Beau Bouton.

Their stories are simply but eloquently told. Oppression lasting for generations. Men who will not take it any longer. Their decision to stand up for what is right and against those who would continue the sins of the past has been coming for a long time and they are united and steadfast in their determination to see this through. And that includes NOT allowing some white woman, however well-intentioned, to “save” them. No, they will save themselves, or die trying.

Gaines’s writing is evocative of time and place. I can feel the humid heat, taste the dust that fills the air, hear the buzz of mosquitos as evening comes, smell the swamp and sweat. This is the second book by Gaines that I have read (and I’ve read A Lesson Before Dying three times), but I have all his works on my tbr. The world of literature lost a great writer when he passed on in 2019. ( )
  BookConcierge | Dec 24, 2020 |
A well-drawn and balanced tale of fundamental changes in a society and of the people who either choose to adapt or not, both suffering consequences of perceived progress. I found myself immersed in the story, as told in first-person by those present, and never felt that I was being manipulated emotionally by the author. Nicely written. ( )
  fuzzi | Aug 17, 2019 |
Slowly evolving and powerful telling of the strength of old Black men gathering to stand up together to defend one man accused of murder.

The suspense of the inevitable confrontation is chilling. ( )
  m.belljackson | Jun 25, 2019 |
My daughter was assigned to read books by [a:Ernest J. Gaines|3533|Ernest J. Gaines|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1255909167p2/3533.jpg] for school, and in order to discuss them with her I agreed to read them too. This is the first and I loved it.

"And let’s don’t be getting off into that thirty-five, forty, fifty years ago stuff, either. Things ain’t changed that much round here. In them demonstrations, somebody was always coming up missing. So let’s don’t be putting it all on no thirty-five, forty, fifty years ago like everything is so nicey-nicey now."

The story starts when Candy Marshall sends frantic word for the men in the neighborhood (all of whom are old) to gather at Mathu's place. It appears that Mathu has shot and killed a Cajun farmer in his front yard. By the time Sheriff Mapes arrives, everyone is claiming to have been the one who shot the man, and Mapes knows he's got an explosive situation on his hands.

Confusing! The book is told from 15(!) different viewpoints, all first-person and a few repeated (but don't let that slow you down). It's also written in the local dialect, and I'm still not sure what some of the words meant. It's very much a story about racial tensions, but often I wasn't even sure about a character's race, and it took me a while just to figure out when the story takes place. And yet I expect this is all on purpose and very cleverly done by the author, as the different viewpoints effectively convey the confusion of the situation and develop a quickly escalating tension - I wish I could have read this in one sitting. It's a powerful story of race relations and about men standing up for themselves. This short book could very easily be paired with [b:To Kill a Mockingbird|2657|To Kill a Mockingbird|Harper Lee|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1361975680s/2657.jpg|3275794] in high school classes.

“Won’t it ever stop?” he asked. He looked around at all of them. “Won’t it ever stop? I do all I can to stop it. Every day of my life, I do all I can to stop it. Won’t it ever stop?” ( )
1 vote J.Green | Mar 15, 2019 |
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I heard Candy out in the front yard calling Gram Mon.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Swedish title (1986): Gamla män samlas
Book; do not combine with the movie this book is based on.
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Set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation in the 1970s, A Gathering of Old Men is a powerful depiction of racial tensions arising over the death of a Cajun farmer at the hands of a black man.

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