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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Memoir Reviewed for Black History Month

Suitcase Full of Dreams
by Hoy Kersh
Author's Web site:
ISBN 978-0-9823165-1-1

Reviewed by Linda Austin

Author Hoy Kersh practically sings her story of childhood growing up in the 1940s and 1950s in Mobile, Alabama. Jim Crow country, but not as bad as Mississippi. Hoy, who was called Cat then, uses a lyrical and mostly carefree voice to tell of a young girl's spring dreams and summer fun, the mischief and the play of any happy child. But this child is poor, her mama has burdens that aren't spoken of, her beloved daddy cheats, and her kind, wise grandma packs a pistol and runs a gambling house. While "the clear light days of childhood call to me, voices on the wind, fairies in every flower," life also held the grim reality of shoes mended with cardboard, beatings, white man rules and the Klan. But the march for freedom had begun, and rebellious Cat was "full of wonder and magic, piss and vinegar." Looking for a brown Jesus of justice, Cat challenges the white priest and her nun teachers. She's encouraged hearing of civil rights leaders. She reads what she can of black history and learns pride in her heritage. She hears the call of the northern states.

The book tends to meander like a child runs from flower to flower, with some abrupt transitions common in memoirs, but it succeeds as an intimate poem of childhood delights and adolescent discovery against a gently told backdrop of poverty, injustice and anger. The book belongs in high school social studies and history classes, and is an excellent introductory story before tackling Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. I'll be waiting for Part II.

~The reviewer is Linda Austin, author of  Cherry Blossoms in Twilight from Moonbridge Publications

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