Book Review: Gathering of Waters

My good friend, the late scholar and author Derrick Bell invited me to a dinner party several years ago in which a group of black literati insisted that icons like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou would be dying off sooner than readers would like.  Derrick asked, “Who will we read once Toni, Maya and Alice are gone?”

I said, “Bernice McFadden.”

Back then many of them weren’t familiar with the name.  But in the last decade, Bernice McFadden’s moniker has become synonymous in the literary world with major award wins and amazingly unforgettable novels that include “Sugar,” “The Warmest December” and “Glorious.”  Readers must treat themselves to her most ambitious and entertaining novel yet, the arresting and haunting Gathering of Waters  In this novel, we come face to face with the ghost of Emmett Till, a fourteen year old black boy lynched by racist Whites in Mississippi for whistling at a White woman.  We’ve all heard that part of the story.  But the tale of Emmett Till’s mother and his black teen girlfriend, realistically imagined by McFadden, reinvigorate historical footnotes, giving the book enough wonder to usher in an even larger story—that of the Jim Crow South and its legacy; nearly a century of black people’s tenacity under the weight of racial rebuke, family discord, sexual tensions and a spiritual ill wind in the person of a prostitute named Esther whose flair for evil speeds us all the way to Hurricane Katrina.

Narrated by the town of Money, Mississippi (yes, the town is telling the story)—Bernice McFadden uses the love story of Emmett Till and Tass Hilson to weave a tapestry of longing, despair, memory and enchantment.  In lesser hands this novel could have been a mess. But McFadden’s ability to shape and mold a new classic out of nothing but sincerity and real history demonstrates why she’s one of the supreme writers of our generation.  It’s not often we read something that doesn’t bore us and is worth the money we paid to read it.  “Gathering of Waters” is that rare gem that readers look for.

Kola Boof is the acclaimed author of "The Sexy Part of the Bible" and a television writer. She lives in California.

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