Remembered is Yvonne Battle-Felton’s debut novel, a story where Spring, an emancipated slave, is forced to relive a haunting past in order to lead her dying son home.
One of the more amazing things about reading is that it reminds you of your humanity. Despite years of reading African American history and literature, I found Remembered difficult to read – needing to take breaks, fight back tears and hold back waves of anger from start to completion of the story.
A multi-generational narrative, it tracks a family history from a plantation to a segregated hospital bed in Philadelphia. There is a mix of folklore, history and religion in the telling of this story that allows the reader fall into the complexities of being black in c.20th America. One of the major characters of the narrative, a domineering force, Tempe is an apparition that serves as connection between the fragmented family tree and the living. She is the reminder of how much African American familial connection was lost through the brutality of the slave trade; a testament to the role of murder, forced separation and suicide in creating breaks in generational lines.
A major theme in Remembered is the importance of continued African American familial lines to white plantations and how black breeding was pivotal to maintaining workforces and income for white slave owners. Within the narrative is the harrowing story of the theft of a free black woman: Ella, to save a plantation “cursed” by infertility amongst its workforce. This narrative of free black bodies being stolen and forced into slavery is part of the horrors of the slave trade that Remembered forces its reader to reckon with. The duality of black enslavement in America that has continued long past emancipation is a clear narrative theme. For the reader, one can see how these systems of enslavement still occurs of African Americans in the school-to-prison-pipeline system that is seeing young African Americans incarcerated disproportionally.
That some of the characters, slave and no, are grossly unlikeable is a testament to Yvonne Battle-Felton’s commitment to preserving reality for the reader. This iterates the idea that a person does not have to be likeable to be deserving of human decency. In a society where the ‘model minority’ disorder sees many African Americans striving to be saintly in the hopes that it would afford them equal rights, it is important to remember that emancipation was fought for all African Americans rather than just the good ones.
Oftentimes in the narrative and most often for characters I was rooting for, I found myself frustrated at the choices made, wishing that they would act in ways I, presently deem the more rational and obvious option. This freedom to have multiple perspectives on a situation borne out of the ability to read, travel, think and conduct my life’s affairs for myself is a privilege that
What Yvonne Battle-Felton does, moving the story from past to present and across dual realities is artistic mastery. Beyond the historic grounding of this narrative is its complete believability, how easy it is for the reader to be transported to the rooms, fields, and minds that make up the novel. Remembered is written with a mastery that respects the stories that have come before and the necessity of preserving the past. This read, though emotionally difficult, is necessary.
Published by Dialogue Books of Little Brown UK.