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Don't Cry for Me by Daniel Black
Historical fiction

Don't Cry for Me

by Daniel Black

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Quick take

What do you say to someone you loved but failed? Here a father uses letters to express his love for his estranged son.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad

    Sad

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Rural_update

    Rural

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Literary

    Literary

Synopsis

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.

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Content warning

This book contains a scene that depicts sexual assault.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Don't Cry for Me.
Don't Cry for Me

NOVEMBER 12TH, 2003

Dear Isaac,

For a life like mine, there is no redemption. I wish I was old. Dying ain’t so bad if a man is old, but when he’s my age—sixty-two—it’s a sad and pitiful thing. If I was eighty, I could die in peace. Eighty’s a good dying age. But a man in his sixties should still have his strength, his good senses. My strength is practically spent. Every day, cancer consumes a little more of it, leaving me to wonder when it’ll run out altogether. My mind, however, is still with me, so I should say some things while I can.

It’s been … what? Ten, fifteen years or better? After your mother died, days passed into years. I’m not long for this world. My days of grace are far spent. At the end of a life, memories are clouded. But perhaps with what I’m about to say, you will know why I did what I did. Whether you forgive me or not will be up to you.

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Why I love it

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.

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Member ratings (7,433)

  • Luis M.

    Irving, TX

    Heartfelt. I’m in a similar situation with my father so I think I “felt” it a little more. I know some folks won’t like that it feels like the ending is “unresolved” but that is how life is sometimes.

  • Natalie C.

    Covina, CA

    Honestly, a really great book. It’s interesting to see another point of view on things. The sexual assault was too graphic for me and I almost put it down, but I was happy it wasn’t focused on too muc

  • Maggie S.

    Topeka , KS

    Absolutely heartbreaking book. Beautifully & poignantly written. I gained a lot of perspective from Jacob’s story, as well empathy for parents who loved their children but didn’t know how to show it.

  • Samantha B.

    Jamaica Plain, MA

    Heart wrenching read that had me crying through the last third of the text. So tense, raw, and honest that you can’t help but feel the tension yourself. Great recommendation for those who “get” it.

  • Jared B.

    Glendale, AZ

    Finished in one sitting, this book was painful in all the right ways. Very few stories have managed to move me the way this one has. I wasn’t sure about it when I selected it, but I’m so glad I did.

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