Bernice L. McFadden: Glorious (2010)

Glorious is set against the backdrops of the Jim Crow South, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights era. Blending fact and fiction, Glorious is the story of Easter Venetta Bartlett, a fictional Harlem Renaissance writer whose tumultuous path to success, ruin, and ultimately revival offers a candid and true portrait of the American experience in all its beauty and cruelty.

What an entertaining and well written book! I always say that I don’t like historical novels but I really liked this one a great deal. I had a feeling I had only just started when it was already finished.

Glorious tells the story of the fictitious Harlem Renaissance writer E.V. Gibbs whose maiden name was Easter Venetta Bartlett.

Easter’s story is a blend of fact and fiction and from what I can judge McFadden put a lot of effort into the research of her topic and manages to weave it artfully into the story.

I was drawn into the book from the first pages on. In the prologue we read about the tragic beginning of Easter’s story. I liked the way McFadden did this in adding a long list of sentences  and paragraphs all starting with “If….” It exemplifies something that is on my mind a lot, namely the one single instance or occurrence in which a fatal or happy series of events is triggered, the one crucial point that determines the course a life will take.

If her father hadn’t won a boxing match, Easter’s sister wouldn’t have been raped. If that hadn’t happened her father wouldn’t have had an affair and her mother wouldn’t have died. If her mother hadn’t died, Easter wouldn’t have left her hometown and if….

But it did happen and Easter leaves. First she stays with relatives in the Jim Crow South until she witnesses a lynching.  She escapes and joins a travelling circus where she meets the charismatic, lesbian Rain. Easter will not stay very long with the circus and moves on. After some more trials and tribulations she arrives in New York.

She settles down in New York, finds a job that pays he bills, meets a man from the Caribbean and gets married.

Since her early days Easter has always written stories. In New York, after having met Rain again and been introduced to Meredith Tomas, the rich wife of a Cuban plantation owner, she is discovered as the great hidden talent she is. All the prominent people of the Harlem  Renaissance like her writing and she is very influential.

Chance however is not on her side. Her husband who attempts to murder Marcus Garvey, dies soon after her talent has been discovered and Meredith, consumed by envy of her talent, steals Easter’s novel.

The last chapters fast forward some 4o years and we see what has become of  Easter who is now an elderly woman working as a maid in her hometown.

As I said, this book is based on a lot of facts and I’m pretty sure, that it is to a large extent inspired by Nella Larsen’s biography whose career did also end with an accusation of plagiarism.

The beginning in the Jim Crow South is maybe the best part of the novel. The descriptions are very powerful and almost cinematographic. What a monstrosity the South of those days was. It made me think of the song Strange Fruit. I have been collecting versions of it for years now.

Glorious will not be my last Bernice McFadden novel. She really is a very talented writer and it was a highly entertaining read. I already got her first novel Sugar here.

I’m amazed that she hasn’t been translated into German. If there is one market for which her novel would be perfect, it is the German one.

I wouldn’t have read this book if it hadn’t been for a comment by Anna (Diary of an Eccentric) who mentioned it on my first Nella Larsen post.

Here is the link to Anna’s review and to my first Nella Larsen post on Quicksand and to the second on Passing.

Last but not least here is the link to Bernice McFadden’s Blog.

I couldn’t resist and have attached one of my favourite Strange Fruit versions sung by Nina Simone. The video is worth watching as well. It’s very shocking.