Sunday, August 20, 2017

Welcome To Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

They meet at Berkeley one fall.  D'aron is white and from the rural South, Braggsville, Georgia to be exact.  He has escaped to what he expects will be his new life.  His roommate, Louis, is Malaysian and a stand-up comic in his spare time.  He is local and has family nearby.  Candice is a typical corn-fed Midwestern blonde girl, who never met a liberal cause she didn't love.  Charlie is an inner-city black man who escaped because of his athletic ability but who has shed that life now that he has made it to college.  They find something in each other and before long, are inseparable.  They call themselves '4 Little Indians'.

Their lives change when they take an Alternative History class.  Their professor is talking one day about historical reenactments when D'aron volunteers that his town has an annual Civil War reenactment.  That spurs a lively discussion and eventually the four plan a class project.  They will go to D'aron's town and recreate a slave lynching during the reenactment.  They don't really consider what will happen.

The time comes and the four travel to the South.  D'aron is half nervous about how they will perceive his town and background and half pleased that they have all come home with him to visit.  He takes them around local landmarks and his family has a huge barbecue cookout where they meet half the town; not hard when the town has 712 citizens.  But somehow D'aron's parents realize that he is up to something and his father forbids him to participate.  Charlie has also had second thoughts when he gets to the South and thinks about the history of black people.  They decide to pull out of the plan but Candice and Louis decide to go on.  When the day ends in tragedy, no one objective could be surprised.

This book has received terrific feedback.  It was longlisted for both the 2015 National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  It was named one of the Best Books of 2015 by such organizations as NPR, The Washington Post, Time and the Huffington Post.  Johnson explores the state of race relations in modern America, a timely topic as has been recently demonstrated by events.  He also explores the foibles of the liberal movement in colleges and how young people can be swayed into actions that affect them their entire life while those who influence them remain untouched.  It explores the way people can bond together from disparate backgrounds.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in how we can all live together.

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