Inheritance


I am grateful to see that this week’s New York Times Book Review article by Roy Hoffman emphasizes the treatment of land ownership and the connection between If Sons, Then Heirs and my other books:

Land and its title, singular and collective, are the ties that bind, and nearly unravel, in this account of an African-­American family far-flung from its moorings. Cary — whose first novel, “The Price of a Child,” followed the antebellum travails of a runaway slave turned abolitionist, and whose second, “Pride,” set late in the last century, featured the voices of women telling of love and loss — has now found a through-line from the 19th-century to the 21st-century South.

Debra Powell-Wright notes that one of her favorite passages has to do with marriage, and that she read most of If Sons, Then Heirs in Jamaica visiting her husband’s family.

“Here’s something I wanna know,” she said. “You tell me: Why don’t young people get married anymore? Since we all speaking our mind today–” She looked into the backseat to make sure Khalil was sleeping. Then she whispered: “You got the boy callin you Daddy; now he call me Nana, and I’m fallin in love with him. You and the mother send telephone messages fifty a hundred times a day…”

Rayne’s phone vibrated once, to signify a text message.

“There she is again, probably askin how it went, and did the old lady act up.” Selma leaned sideways, as if talking into the phone on Rayne’s belt. “And the answer is yes, she did…

And as I read the Times review and Debra’s favorite passage, I cannot help but be taken back to writing and rewriting this book and trying to meditate on laws and culture that regulate family and laws and culture that regulate land.  For years I mulled the laws put into place that made South Carolina heir property so very hard for black inheritors to keep and so easy to lose; I researched the lynching—state supported terrorism, essentially—that enforced the laws, streamlined for the book, if you can believe it.  And in the background, I heard the longer, percussive historical dissonance among:  Europeans, whose histories have everything to do with land ownership, and Native Americans and Africans, whose legal systems, as Digital History puts it, “did not recognize the right to own, sell, or rent land as property.”

We, hybrid people here, still fighting each other in our United States, have inherited more legacy than we know, often more than we can manage.

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