Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
Published by Dialogue Books, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I’m glad to say I rounded off my reading of the Women’s Prize longlist with a strong contender. Remembered opens in 1910, as a mother rushes to her son’s hospital bed. Charged with committing a serious crime, and on the brink of death, she vows to tell him the truth of his origins, so that he may ‘find his way home’ in peace. We then travel back to the 1840s, and ultimately follow three generations of this family, showing us how we ended up at this tragic tableau, and highlighting repetitions throughout the timeline of the African-American experience.
The novel is a lot more brutal than I expected, this being a story of slavery, and the struggle that many black people faced to rebuild and find acceptance in the wake of Emancipation. Violence, deprivation, and cruelty are a near constant presence, but that’s not to say the book lacks hope or beauty. On the contrary, the finding of family, and the preservation of joy in the darkest of times are both major threads that run throughout.
The narrative voice feels very authentic. Though the informal approach to grammar takes a little getting used to for those unaccustomed, once you find the rhythm of the prose, it flows beautifully, helping to set the book in its rightful time and place. The characters themselves are richly drawn, and I found myself caring deeply about their fate.
There is an element of magical realism; our heroine able to see and communicate with the ghost of her sister. I sometimes struggle with this kind of thing in an otherwise raw and realistic story, but in this instance, I thought it was handled wonderfully. Not only do the sisters’ scenes together deliver equal parts pathos and snark, but the ghost’s presence serves as a clever symbol of the book’s main theme: the importance of facing up to the past, lest it continue to haunt us. Indeed, there are undeniable parallels between the historical events described, and every generation leading up to the world we live in now. Battle-Felton has written a powerful yet sensitive rallying call, telling the real story between the headlines that so often went untold. In it, she urges us to remember those who have suffered. Together, we can make sure no one need suffer as they did again.
If you’d like to read Remembered, you can pick up a copy from Book Depository by clicking here. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!