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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bombingham by Anthony Grooms (book review)

Earlier I posted this review under the wrong title and was pleading for someone to tell me the right title - because I remembered the book so vividly, but had lent or given it to someone long ago and never seen it again. Long story short, the Internet problems (on other sites) attaching my review to the wrong title have since been corrected and here it is, title and review together once again. It's a very fine book and I hope people are still reading it. Here's the wiki on  the author, Anthony Grooms. (And at the bottom of this you'll find a link to a really good article about this book, and Grooms, by Ishmael Reed.)

Bombingham by Anthony Grooms (2000)

Walter Burke, a foot soldier serving in Vietnam, is trying to write a letter to the family of a friend who has been killed, but he can't find the right words. Memories triggered, he veers from the horrors of the present to those of his past as a black child in Alabama at the dawn of the civil rights movement. All mental paths lead to an examination of violence (sometimes graphically portrayed).

Though the narrative returns to Vietnam periodically, this is chiefly the story of a period in Walter's childhood in Birmingham, whose black residents have dubbed "Bombingham" in recognition of the KKK's preferred method of attack there. In his memories from childhood, Walter may be seeing an epic struggle, but he is young and his view is artless: he simply notes that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "spoke encouragingly" to the crowd; and when he sees Dr. Abernathy arrested, he is most troubled by the lack of respect shown the man. His worldview is dominated by his family life; that, too, is in crisis, and his best friend leads him into every sort of trouble, including dangerous encounters with police at demonstrations.

Some readers will be frustrated by the novel's slow accretion of detail and the meandering plot of this beautifully crafted piece of fiction, but those who can adjust to the pace of the protagonist's thoughtful inner life will come to know and like him, and have a vivid and memorable experience of his world.

(adapted from my SLJ review recommending the book to adults and older teens)


Whoa! Talk about being outclassed! And of how wonderful the Internet is... Looking for an illo of the cover of the book, I came across this great piece, "In the Line of Fire," by none other than Ishmael Reed, who was discussing Bombingham and Anthony Grooms, back in 2001.
(Here's an illo from that piece. Isn't this the face of a writer you'd want to read?!)


Anonymous said...

Can you evaluate the extent to which segregation has impacted the various aspects of Walter’s childhood. Consider his experiences at school, at play, and at home. How does he experience social restrictions on his life? How does the violence against blacks in Birmingham and much of the South become part of his consciousness as a young boy?

Christine Menefee said...

Interesting questions - are you in a discussion group? Writing a study guide? I wouldn't even try to answer those questions without re-reading the book, as it's been a while. Have you read it? what do you think?

Anonymous said...

I'm in a book club. I wrote a short essay about it I'm just curious as to what you think about these questions.

Christine Menefee said...

Thanks for your response - that's interesting! Glad to know people are reading the book. I'd like to hear what you and your book club thought about these questions. If this Blogger thing will allow that many words (not sure how that would work) it would be great if you would post your essay as a comment here!

I wouldn't mind re-reading the book now that some time has passed. When it came out, I was reviewing it originally with an eye to its interest for older teens as well as adults (that was the point of the column my reviews were published in); so that might have biased my reading of the book to concentrate mostly on the main character's child's-eye view (it is a very introspective tale), and in his family situation.

I found that very interesting as a literary way of dealing with larger societal issues, and didn't see the novel so much as a document about the things you discussed. So I really would be interested to hear what you all thought about those.

Then too, I think, as the character is writing from the context of his war experience and looking back, in revisiting his childhood memories of life in a segregated south he's finally integrating those experiences into his greater adult understanding of the larger (society's) context - which takes him beyond the violence of segregation into the larger, universal human violence of war in general.

But I seem to have lost my copy; I probably lent it to someone and never got it back. (Don't you find that happens with your favorite books, too?)

Anonymous said...

yes, ik this happens to me quite often