Praisesong for the Widow

Posted by on Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall

This is another one of those books I allowed to languish on my to-read shelf for far too long.  I found Paule Marshall’s books thanks to Virginia Fowler, with whom my big brother and I both studied in college.  If you haven’t run into Fowler’s work, well, run into it soon.  She’s one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met, and she taught me to really learn and study.  Ginny would make strong students shine, drag scholarship out of the laziest of students, or she would fail them–those were the three options in her class.  I think I value my As from Dr. Fowler more than I value being accepted to present papers at conferences.  Any idiot can convince a conference organizer that their paper is worth hearing–only someone who really works hard can get an A from Dr. Fowler.  I should send her a fruit basket.

Praisesong is the story of the cultural epiphany of a widow.  Our hero, Avatara "Avey" Johnson, is a widow and mother.  She has a complicated relationship with her activist daughter and mourns the degradation of her marriage, which suffered under financial strains and then withered as money replaced love and passion.  Avey goes on a cruise with some friends and ends up ditching them to forge a connection to her culture.

There are some sections of the book that could be tightened up a tiny bit, but the close of the novel (novella?) is masterful.  Avatara reconnects to West Indian culture in a gorgeous ancestor ceremony.  Very few writers can write ritual well, but Marshall pulls it off.  She takes us to a scene most of us will never see, she treats it with reverence, but she also reveals the humanity of it all.  I won’t say more–just go read it.  Read it read it read it.  It’s a great book.  Read it now.  It’s small–read it twice.

Filed in Books | 2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Praisesong for the Widow”

  1. minnieon 30 Nov 2006 at 10:54 am 1

    i will, if i can find it. i have found that the omaha public library is sadly lacking in interesting reads. so far the only one i’ve found has been jonathan strange and mr norrell (thanks again, i listened to it on book CD and it was great!)

  2. minnieon 30 Nov 2006 at 10:56 am 2

    amazing! they had it! i’ve requested it, thanks!

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