Some Sing, Some Cry

Just before heading out of town on vacation I stopped by the library to pick up some audio books and 3DS games for the kids. It was a driving trip and we were facing 24 hours of car time. I’d just finished a 500+ page novel so was looking for a new book for me. I was hoping for a quick, light read. Nothing grabbed my attention in the new release section so I pulled up my Goodreads list and started working it.

As often happens I go through a series of books on my list only to find they are not available at my library or are checked out. It gets to be time-consuming which is why I usually go through the process at home. I like to be in and out of the library unless I’m planning to sit down and read. Eventually, I found a novel that was on my list and available for checkout. I head over to the shelf, see it, and hesitate. It’s thick.

Do I really want to tackle another 500+ page novel? I’m a slow reader. I get distracted. It seems overwhelming. I check out the synopsis on the inner flap and am intrigued. I decided to go for it. That was a good decision.

It has been over a month since I finished reading Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza. It was returned to the library and remains in my thoughts. Questions continue to invade my mind about the characters. I need to read this book again.

Some Sing, Some Cry is at times a difficult read. The story opens at the start of the Reconstruction with a matriarch, Bette, and her granddaughter, Dora. It spans the next two generations ending in the somewhat present day. The story is told through the eyes and experiences of the women in the family. Their experiences as daughters, as mothers, and as individuals. There are clear connections between the generations with events and behaviors that repeat.

I found the matriarch, Bette, the most interesting and the most secretive of the characters. Her passages are heavily coded and I feel I missed many of the pieces she shared. There is a rather large reveal in a later chapter that caught me completely unaware. She is the main reason I’m planning to read this book again in the future. I want to know more about her.

There is a missing generation in the story. The children Bette had while enslaved. I’m confident a second reading will reveal more of the cause of their absence to me as I catch more of the coded language. The fate of one of her children is directly revealed and it was not at all what I had assumed.

As I reflect on the book I think Bette and her children are a representation of the lost generational knowledge experienced by those who were enslaved. The story starts where familial choices start to be within their control. Dora, her granddaughter, suffers a similar violence as her grandmother, but she decides her path forward. It was not decided for her as it was for her grandmother.

Each ensuing generation exerts more independence of thought and choice. Some of the choices mirror prior generations. Colorism flows through and impacts each generation in sometimes unexpected ways. There is a dark-skinned daughter and a light-skinned daughter. Life does not offer them equal opportunity and their challenges are different. Each daughter struggles, but I felt that the light-skinned daughters had to reconcile expectation with reality in a way that the dark-skinned daughters did not have to address. There is a certain freedom of choice when there are no expectations, but it is not without cost.

I feel like I’m missing so much of the nuance of what I read. This has been a difficult review to write because of that. I’ve never read a book that has made me think so much about the characters and what I learned about them. I want to return to that space and see the connections that I missed the first time. Usually, I’ll read a book again simply because I enjoyed it. This time I need to read the book again because I want to better understand the characters.

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