The Twelve Tribes of Hattie





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This was a rough book.  After I was two chapters in, and knowing I was well ahead of the rest of the book club, I almost texted the lady who chose the book just to make sure she wanted to stick with it.  But I went on for one more chapter and it got better.  Not that the first two chapters are bad, it is just material that can make some uncomfortable - the death of babies and a man experiencing gay sex.

On a scale of 1 - 5:

Sex: 4
Religion: 4
Gruesome: 3
Suspense: 1
Morality: 4

Sex - Details of two men having sex, details of the same man having sex with women - not too graphic but more than clinical.  Reference to a woman pleasuring herself.  It's not constant but it is pretty significant and memorable.

Religion - The characters preach to each other but not at the reader.

Gruesome - There is quite a bit of harsh language in Franklin's military tales, some of the situations may not be pleasant to read about but they are every day situations, nothing from a horror movie.

Suspense - The book had some things that made me curious but nothing at all suspenseful.

Morality - The book pushes the edge of traditional morals with gay relationships and marital affairs.  We live in a world of imperfect people and these things are part of life.  It does not attack ones morals in any way.

     Hattie moved from Atlanta to Philadelphia when she was young with her mother and sister.  There was a bit of culture shock since blacks had more freedom in the north.  There is no chapter dedicated only to Hattie but there is a chapter dedicated to each of her children (two chapters are about two children in one chapter, all others are individual children with occasional references to siblings) and the final chapter dedicated to her granddaughter. 

     In the first chapter there is the tragic death of twin babies.  In the second chapter there is a man coming to terms with being gay, including details of his sexual encounters.  Every child has their problems.  Ms. Mathis seems to have utilized great resources to really get into the mind of these afflictions. With Sala, Ms. Mathis did a fantastic job understanding how a child rationalizes love and worries about making everyone happy so she doesn't "lose anyone's love." (p. 363 LP)

     I moved through this book quickly by having it an audio CD, in e-format on my phone and iPad, and a hard copy laying around the house.  When I had to return the hard copy to the library I got a large print version - thus the varying page references.  All in all it is an enjoyable book and I felt like the characters had come to life because I continued to think about them for a few days after I finished the book.  For all its aches and pains though, the book did not change me one bit, did not give me cause to ponder or reflect.  My life would not have a piece missing if I had never read the book.  The characters did not stay with me for long, not anywhere near the attachment I have to Diana Gabaldon's  or Stephenie Meyer's characters that have stayed with me for years.

Questions

Question:  Hattie loved the twins so much and tried to be such a good mother to them, were you surprised at how she cared for the rest of her children?

Discuss:  [Floyd wonders] why they didn't have sense enough to act normal, to protect themselves from scorn, ... (p. 25).  This can apply to a variety of people and situations - not just gay people.

Question:  Do you think Six was named so because he was the sixth child?  Or was it a nickname?  Six can be an evil number when associated with the devil.  Yet he winds up a preacher.  Six also sounds like sick.  Before you knew - what did you think his medical problem was?

Discuss:  (p. 40)  Six wasn't sure religion was any more than a lot of people caught up in a collective delirium that disappeared the minute they stepped out of the church doors and onto the street.

Discuss:  (p. 52)  "Six dreamed he was swinging in a hammock on a porch in front of a big white house with a trellis, and his father came up the porch steps, saying, "I knew you'd like it here.  I knew you'd want to stay forever."  What do you think this is intended to portray or foreshadow?

Discuss:  (ebook loc. 943) "These people had probably known each other all their lives, and still one had the power to demand tat the other step into the gutter, an that other was cowed enough to do it."  Does this happen today?  To whom?

Question:  Were you surprised that the ministers were jealous of Six?

Discuss:  "Maybe, Six thought, there wasn't anything purely good or holy.  Maybe good was only accomplished indirectly and through unlikely channels:  fake healings or a room full of jealous angry men with Bibles who nonetheless drew these sad people and lifted their spirits for a few days.  It could be that Six was one of these - a bad thing used for good purposes.

Question:  Were you surprised about Lawrence?  What surprised you more - the first woman he was with or the second?

Question:  Who was your favorite of all the children?

Question:  When the Alice and Billups chapter began it seemed that things were one way but by the end of the chapter we saw that it was really the opposite.  Did this surprise you?  Which other characters wound up far from your first impression of them?

Question:  Was Hattie a good mother?  Bell thought, "She didn't know how to tend to her children's souls, but she fought to keep them alive and to keep herself alive." (p. 340 LP)

Question:  Did it seem strange to you that Cassie had been on a plane?  Where and when do you think this occurred? 

Question:  Do the problems seem to get bigger and worse as each new chapter comes along?

Question:  Do you ever marvel at how people choose the names for their children.  How they might have four boys:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and...Cordova.

Discuss:  The Acknowledgements mention Laurence Vagassky and "To my dearest Justin Torres, without whom this book would not be and without whose friendship I could never have done what needed doing.  My thanks and my love, for everything and forever."  What correlations can you draw between the Acknowledgements and the story?

Question:  Ms. Mathis repeatedly uses a multitude of colors to describe her characters.  Colors such as: caramel, nutmeg, mud-colored, burnished brown like a cane, light-skinned, milky-tea color, high yellow, inside of an almond.  What descriptive colors could you use to describe the people at your book club?

Question:  Some characters narrate their own story, others have it told for them by an omniscient narrator.  Why do you think there was such variety?  Did it affect the story in any way for you?  (I missed this but one of my book club friends asked it when we discussed the book.)

Timeline

1905 - August born
1907 - Hattie born
1922 - they meet
1924, June - twins, Philadelphia and Jubilee born
1925, Jan. 22 - twins die
1926 Floyd born
1927 to 1933 - Cassie born
1930 to 1935 - Bell born
1935 - Six born
1943 - Alice born
1945 - Billups born
1947 - Franklin born
1948~ - Floyd at age 22 goes on road as musician, may have come and gone again until 1953
              when he had been away 15 years
1950 - Six at age 15 goes on road as preaching prodigy
1951 - Ruthie born (father is Lawrence)
1954, end of April - Ella born
1954, October - Ella at age 6 months given to Hattie's sister
1968, February - Alice at age 25 prepares for party for Floyd at age 42 and "helps" Billups at age 23
1968, Sept. 13 - Franklin and Sissy's baby born
1969 - Franklin at age 21 1/2 in war and has flashbacks
1970 - Sala born (mother is Cassie)
1975 - Bell, in her early 40s, almost dies from tuburculosis
1980 - Cassie, between 53 and 59 years old, institutionalized

Theme Ideas

Serve:  Buttered crackers like Floyd and Cassie ate when they were little because that's what Hattie fixed for them.

Serve:  fried chicken, corn fritters, apples, peaches, and iced tea like the picnics before the revival.

Serve:  fried chicken, sliced tomatoes, and peach cobbler like Pearl and Bennie ate on their road trip.

Serve:  wonton soup like Bell craved.
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