This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
This book, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, would not be my normal choice of reading. I struggle with American literature and tend to choose home-grown authors and stories that I can relate to. However I read that this book was recommended by Barack Obama and so I thought it would be good to read – something that challenged me both politically and emotionally.
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined.
Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding.
As Roy’s time in prison passes, she struggles to hold on to the love that has been her centre. When his conviction is suddenly overturned, he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together. This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward – with hope and pain – into the future.
‘A moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.’ – Barack Obama
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION, 2019 and LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL FICTION 2019
So with all of those credits I started to read and read and read. This is a book that completely embraces you into the family of Roy and Celestial as they embark on their marriage. We all know that marriage can be tough. I always say that it is a work in progress until the day you die. Regardless of this or maybe together with this, to be an African-American couple adds a whole other level of challenge.
I found the story both haunting and moving. The way that the author tells the story, each chapter through the eyes of one of the participants, works so well. Lives that are so entwined, confident in their progress, suddenly ripped apart by one incident. How they each react and cope is so interesting. Everyone thinks they are reacting the right way but is it right? How does this affect the one that is suffering the most? And who suffered the most?
There is a line in the book that is so expressive which basically says that for a black man you are defined by 6 or 12. 6 men to carry you or 12 to judge you. That stopped me in my tracks. So often African-American men are judged by the colour of their skin before considering their defence. Imagine feeling that you are guilty and have to prove your innocence.
I shared in each and every character’s pain as the author makes them so real with both strengths and flaws. This book leaves you thinking long after you read the final sentence. There continues to be injustice in the world for those with a darker skin than our own – rules and laws are not universal. Life is not fair for so many and yet we sit back and continue to allow it to be.
Read this book, An American Marriage, as it is so appropriate in these unsettled times.
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