Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Review - "Havasu Means Blue Water" by Ivory Simone

Nearly five thousand people, predominantly African-Americans, were reported lynched in the United States between 1882-1968.  Ninety-nine percent of all perpetrators of lynching escaped punishment.  On February 7, 2005, the United States Senate approved a resolution apologizing to the victims of lynching and their descendants for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation.  Ivory Simone’s new novel, Havasu Means Blue Water, explores this horrible fact of America’s history.

Ivory Simone is an author, poet and blogger based in Bangkok, Thailand.  She hosts a weekly poetry program and a talk radio show.  Simone is a social justice advocate who is passionate about raising the standards of humanity.  Havasu Means Blue Water is Simone’s debut novel.  Her writing manifests her desire to see injustice eradicated.

Lyla Amir is the main character in this novel.  Lyla is a graduate student who has chosen a controversial topic for her thesis – “The Incendiary Power of Race and Gender:  the Deconstruction of a Political Murder.”  She focuses her research on the 1918 lynching of a black farmer and his wife that occurred in the small town of Wilburn, Arizona.  Her thesis topic is met with opposition by the university’s administrators.  Despite the opposition, Lyla is determined to proceed as planned. 

She visits the small town of Wilburn to uncover the murder site.  What she finds in this town is much more than an infamous past.  The people of this town have been unable to progress beyond the violence that characterized them nearly a century ago.  The story begins to unravel as Lyla encounters various citizens of Wilburn.

Lyla is transfixed on the courage displayed by the farmer’s wife.  She chose to stand up to the violent mob that killed her husband.  She witnessed his violent murder.  She knew what the mob was capable of and what her stand would mean.  She met the same fate as her husband.  The courage “black Mary” displayed is a focal point of this novel.  That same courage is displayed by other characters in this story.

This novel has many layers.  Simone skillfully paints a picture of each character.  The characters play a very different role in the story.  However, by the end the reader can appreciate and understand how the characters are intertwined.  Simone truly shows her talents as a writer by creating such a multi-faceted story.  As I read each chapter, I couldn’t wait to find out how each sub-plot related to the main plot of the novel.  Each facet of the story enriched this novel and gave it deeper meaning.

Even though the people of Wilburn appeared to be stuck in time, there was a glimpse of hope for this dismal town.  I walked away from this novel feeling that no matter how desperate a situation is the outcome can still be positive.  For me, the lesson of this novel is never give up.  Simone’s debut novel is a provocative, yet delightful story that will engage any reader.

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