What do you say to someone you loved but failed? Here a father uses letters to express his love for his estranged son.
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Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
Sometimes we rend a relationship seemingly beyond repair, having neglected or wounded those we love to a breaking point. Some of the greatest literature I know begins from this place. Can the relationship be recovered? What will a character risk to make things right? I think these kinds of stories—of which Daniel Black’s Don't Cry for Me is a very welcome addition—resonate not just because of their relatability but also their built-in stakes. We are gripped by the very personal and fraught prospect of healing. Or in this case, at least, atonement.
Don't Cry for Me is told in the form of letters, evoking the spirit of classics from luminaries like James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates. It follows the meditative and elegiac reminiscences of a black father on his deathbed writing to the gay son he failed to properly embrace. As the story unfurls, we come to see the forces and experiences that shaped Jacob, the father in question, and the turmoil that defined Black American life, particularly in the South, across the long 20th century.
I found this book richly drawn and very lived-in. By its end Jacob felt like one of my own family members and his stories stitched up with my own. I highly recommend it for anyone seeking a wisdom-filled and graceful book to start off their year.
As Jacob lies dying, he begins to write a letter to his only son, Isaac. They have not met or spoken in many years, and there are things that Isaac must know. Stories about his ancestral legacy in rural Arkansas that extend back to slavery. Secrets from Jacob’s tumultuous relationship with Isaac’s mother and the shame he carries from the dissolution of their family. Tragedies that informed Jacob’s role as a father and his reaction to Isaac’s being gay.
But most of all, Jacob must share with Isaac the unspoken truths that reside in his heart. He must give voice to the trauma that Isaac has inherited. And he must create a space for the two to find peace.
With piercing insight and profound empathy, acclaimed author Daniel Black illuminates the lived experiences of Black fathers and queer sons, offering an authentic and ultimately hopeful portrait of reckoning and reconciliation. Spare as it is sweeping, poetic as it is compulsively readable, Don't Cry for Me is a monumental novel about one family grappling with love’s hard edges and the unexpected places where hope and healing take flight.