“Memphis,” by Tara M. Stringfellow, is a 3-generational story of mothers and daughters whose resilience and goals for their loved ones help them survive the turbulent times between 1937 and 2003. The story is told in alternating voices marked with chapter titles naming the character presenting the story and the year of interest.
Hazel is the matriarch of the family, married in 1943 to the love of her life. Upon her husband’s violent death, she raises Miriam and August, sisters whose lives are made slightly better with civil rights advances. Their strengths against the odds set them up for a future with hope and opportunity.
The setting is Memphis, and the neighborhood and the ancestral home in which the family resides is the place where most of the plot takes place. The stories of the women reflect their philosophies of family, faith and identity.
Stringfellow has a gift for presenting a closeness of community and family that one can only wish existed everywhere. Simmering themes of love, support, survival and acceptance represent the family’s ability to rise above the struggles the women face because of their race, their precarious financial circumstances, and the brutality they witness even within their own family.
Historical events permeate the novel: times when Blacks could not vote, when lynchings occurred without consequences, when the Civil Rights Bill was enacted, when black leaders were killed, when 9-11 destroyed buildings and our collective complacency.
In the acknowledgements, the author gives thanks to her own parents whose influences are evident. Their Catholicism, their love of the arts, a history of a lynching in the family, and the beauty of their Memphis neighborhood are represented in the novel.
Stringfellow also is a poet, and the book opens with a lovely poem written by the author and dedicated to the child of George Floyd.
Readers will be captivated by “Memphis” a book that reflects universal family values of love, strength in community, and unconditional support for one another. I hope there is a sequel. The novel ends with at least one of the characters headed for renowned fame.