Book Review: Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton

 

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 announced their longlist on March 4, 2019.  Among the 16 books on the longlist I came across a debut novel called Remembered by an African-American author called Yvonne Battle-Felton.  As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to read it.

Remembered is the story of slaves. It is the story of being free too.  At the beginning of the novel, Spring is summoned to the hospital because her son Edward was severely hurt and maybe the originator of crashing a streetcar into a department store, waving a gun around, determined to kill everybody in his path.  Spring is a worried mother who believes her son is being framed or mixed up in labour union dispute.   She doesn’t really care which it is.  She just wants her dying son Edward to live and eventually get better and come home with her.

Ain’t got no time for none of your tantrums, Tempe.  If you ain’t here to help, go!

I’m taking him home.

It ain’t time.  Take me instead.

You?  She spits the word like I’m not even good enough to be dead with her. Always second.

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This is the beginning of the story of Spring and Tempe.  The story that has been left untold since Spring’s emancipation from slavery and her arrival to freedom.  Spring will tell the story to her comatose son, with her ghostly sister Tempe, by her side.  Why? She tells him because he needs to know.  She’s avoided telling him everything until now mostly urged by Tempe. 

Most of what I’m about to tell you ain’t in no history book, no newspaper article, no encyclopedia.  There’s a whole heap of stories don’t ever get told.  What I know comes straight from my sister’s lips to my heart and to the book. (36) 

Remembered spans from 1843 to 1910.  Cleverly, chapters open with a newspaper clipping that comes from the family book.  These newspaper articles set the time and place in the story to historical context.  Battle-Felton gives us just enough through these glimpses of life for blacks in these newspaper clippings, while developing the story of these two sisters.  Moreover, the varied themes range from family, love, motherhood, identity, and most importantly freedom.  Battle-Felton’s writing is powerful, but not only it is important and merciful.

This is not just a story of slavery because Battle-Felton did an excellent job of centralizing the story primarily around the black characters. We are concerned about them only.  Remembered will anger you, and break your heart but most of all its beautiful prose will stick with you long after you’ve finished the book.  I highly recommend reading one of the hidden gems from the Women’s Prize longlist that I hope won’t go unnoticed.

Yvonne Battle-Felton was born in Pennsylvania and raised in New Jersey.  She lived 20 years in Maryland.  She currently lives in the United Kingdom where she teaches creative writing and creative industries at Sheffield Hallam University.  She was shortlisted for the Sunderland University Waterstones SunStory Award as well as winning the Northern Writer’s Fiction Award in 2017 for Remembered.

 
 
 
 

By: Deidre Borie

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