Publication date: February 2, 2016
Category: Historical Fiction
Source: I received a galley via TLC Book Tours for consideration of review in their promotional tour.
Goodreads Summary: A sweeping, eerily resonant epic of race and violence in the Jim Crow South: a lyrical and emotionally devastating masterpiece from Charlie Smith, whom the New York Public Library has said “may be America’s most bewitching stylist alive.”
Delvin Walker is just a boy when his mother flees their home in the Red Row section of Chattanooga, accused of killing a white man. Taken in by Cornelius Oliver, proprietor of the town’s leading Negro funeral home, he discovers the art of caring for the aggrieved, the promise of transcendence in the written word, and a rare peace in a hostile world. Yet tragedy visits them near daily, and after a series of devastating events—a lynching, a church burning—Delvin fears being accused of murdering a local white boy and leaves town.
Haunted by his mother’s disappearance, Delvin rides the rails, meets fellow travelers, falls in love, and sees an America sliding into the Great Depression. But before his hopes for life and love can be realized, he and a group of other young men are falsely charged with the rape of two white women, and shackled to a system of enslavement masquerading as justice. As he is pushed deeper into the darkness of imprisonment, his resolve to escape burns only more brightly, until in a last spasm of flight, in a white heat of terror, he is called to choose his fate.
In language both intimate and lyrical, novelist and poet Charlie Smith conjures a fresh and complex portrait of the South of the 1920s and ’30s in all its brutal humanity—and the astonishing endurance of one battered young man, his consciousness “an accumulation of breached and disordered living . . . hopes packed hard into sprung joints,” who lives past and through it all.
I have to say first that what perked my interest in Ginny Gall was the summary's mention of the African American character Delvin being falsely accused of raping two white women while riding the rails. The historical reference for this event is the Scottsboro Trials in 1931. Nine young African American males were accused of rape by two white women. Eight of the nine young boys were found guilty and sentenced to death, the ninth given a life sentence because he was only twelve years old. Years of retrials and reversals followed. By 1936, seven of the boys had been in jail for over six years WITHOUT trial! Eventually some were pardoned, while others escaped prison. As far out as 1950 re-arrests were made from those who had escaped. The kicker - the crime never happened. The two women lied because they were committing crimes themselves - including crossing the border with a minor for the intent of prostitution.You may also recall another great work of literature with a storyline loosely based off of the Scottsboro Trials - To Kill a Mockingbird.
I'm a sucker for historical fiction, especially those closely related to actual events. On the other hand, many periods of history are painful to read. Ginny Gall is no exception. Unless you lived it, it is hard to imagine a time and place where people would fear walking down a street because God knows what could happen without any provocation. A time and place where justice was so blind. Yet, around the world many places like this exist still today. Young Delvin learns these fears early on, but I like that he still had hopes and dreams and that he consistently tries to make the most of what life has handed him. However, as the summary above shows, even with hopes and dreams along the way, Ginny Gall remains a dark and haunting picture of too true historical events.
Although the book's topic was interesting and the setting familiar based on my personal reading history, I felt I had to push myself through the beginning before I could get into it. I'm unable to pinpoint the why of this, but I think the story speaks for itself once you get going.
And although I am the end of the tour, there are the other reviews for Ginny Gall, It's always good to collect multiple perspectives on a potential read! Click here for links to each of the sites reviewing Ginny Gall.
- Photo by Daniela Sero Smith
About Charlie Smith
Charlie Smith, the author of seven novels and seven books of poetry, has won the Aga Khan Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, Harper's, the New Republic, the New York Times, the Nation, and many other magazines and journals. Three of his novels have been named New York Times Notable Books. He lives in New York City and Key West.