Monday, January 28, 2013

Feminism, Family, and Food in Novel Form

Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo
Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, by Ntozake Shange, really is a book that I found through browsing, and I'm so glad I did.  I can't seem to find anyone in my Google Reader who has reviewed it before, either, though I often think the Google Reader search tool is flawed.  So I'm happy to carry the banner and tell all of you about this one because it really is great!

Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo are sisters from Charleston, South Carolina in the 1960s.  Raised by their mother, Hilda Effania, they're a tight-knit family even though they are all so different.  Sassafrass is a weaver like her mother.  She wants to be a poet but supporting her boyfriend and trying to make ends meet in Los Angeles is hard work.  Cypress is a dancer, and when she moves from San Francisco to New York, she learns more about her own culture, body, and dreams than she expected.  And Indigo is the youngest, a girl who just became a woman, and who can still talk to dolls and see the simple magic that exists in the world.

This is not a book where plot takes center stage.  It's about three sisters dealing with daily life, growing up, and learning about what they want to contribute to the world and what makes them happy.  They stumble, they fall, they get back up and try again, always secure in the knowledge that they can go to the safety of their mother's home whenever they need.  And interspersed with all their mistakes are recipes for delicious food, spells for keeping safe, journal entries, and letters from their mama.

There were so many things about this book that I really loved.  I enjoyed just how strong the relationships were between each woman and her mother, and how well they all knew each other.  I loved that Hilda wanted to give her daughters the best of everything but knew that they also needed to make mistakes so that they could make their own way in the world.  I loved the recipes, all of which sound delicious.  I liked the brief couplets from songs that came through once in a while.  I loved the way Shange weaved both feminism and the Civil Rights movement into the novel without overpowering her message about the love and support that family can provide.  I loved the narrator who did the audiobook version.  I loved Hilda's letters to her daughters - gently chiding them for things she knew they'd regret, but always with humor and a big welcoming hug.

One of Hilda's Christmas traditions for her daughters was to hide her gifts to them - from herself, from their dead father, and from Santa Claus - throughout the house so that each one could open her gifts and read her letter from Mama on her own and enjoy it in private before sharing it with everyone else.  Seriously, this is such a wonderful idea.  If I had a family and celebrated some sort of gift-giving holiday, I think I would do this, too.

A lovely book with a very unique story arc and four very distinct voices.  Highly recommended for one of those days when you want something like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but for an older audience :-)


  1. Oooooh, this sounds really good MAINLY because I love it when there are recipes in books that aren't recipe books! I mean... I can only think of one example of this, which is Heartburn by Nora Ephron, but still... That's a good book! This one has been duly noted :)

  2. I've never even heard of this book before, let alone reviewed it. But it sounds absolutely wonderful, so thank you for posting this review :)

  3. This one sounds really lovely. And I haven't heard of it before. So I'll have to check it out. :)

  4. This book is definitely new to me, and it sounds great. Thanks for the great review! :)

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  6. I think it's interesting that all three daughters feel as though they can come back home to their mother whenever life dishes them out something they can't handle, and wish that there were more families like that. I had not heard of this one before, but now I am off to look for it, and not only because it has spells and recipes in it :) Very incisive and thoughtful review today, my friend.

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  7. Anonymous1/30/2013

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  8. I have been looking at this book and thinking about adding it to my TBR list!

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  9. I don't have any sisters but my relationships with my female friends are really important to me and I love reading about female bonding. And family bonding too. Anyway, if this is like the travelling pants books for an older audience then I have to read it. :-)

  10. I've often thought I should read this one, but I never thought of looking for it on audio!


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