Updated: Aug 29
I would like to thank my dear friend Nicole for sending me this Women’s Prize Longlist read all the way from the U.K. Nicole Barbosa has an amazing podcast of which she interviews various amazing authors. She even interviews Yvonne Battle Felton on her debut book Remembered (The link to this episode is below my review). This book was sent to me with love and was one of Nicole’s absolute favorite reads of last year, I definitely had to read it and immerse myself into the world of Remembered.
The setting is 1910, and Philadelphia is burning. There are citywide riots as thousands of workers strike in solidarity against the Philadelphia Transit Company.
Edward is in the hospital in a coma, fighting for his life. The rumors are that Edward drove a trolley car into a shop window. Some people think it was an accident, and others think he did it on purpose. The police hover nearby and are convinced that it was for a deeper reason. Questions arise; Did he do it? Can they find out the truth? Were his actions intentional? And will he make it out of this comma to face the consequences of his actions?
For Spring, the last place she wants to be is hanging around a beat down colored section of the hospital, surrounded by sickly people and the ghost of her dead sister. But her son Edward lays in a coma dying, and she has no choice but to be there for him.
The only thing that Spring is sure of is that she must hurry and tell Edward about how he came to be. With the help of her dead sister, some newspaper clippings, and her reconstructed memories, she has to try and find a way to get through to him. Spring will face everything she has silenced in her past and will try her best to bring him home.
I would like to explain a little more about the story; Remembered is a historical fiction read based in two different timelines and generations. The first is 1910 in Philadelphia and takes place in a time span of 24 hours where black people have been emancipated from slavery. The second timeline is set between 1843 to 1867 and spans 24 years. It is during the time of the American Civil War, slavery, as well as when the Emancipation Proclamation took place. We follow Spring, an emancipated slave, from a young age when she lived at the plantation, to the present day in Philadelphia. The bulk of the book was based on the latter dates. I was actually quite surprised about this because I was expecting the book to be mostly based in 1910. We don’t know a whole lot about Edward, but instead, we learn much more about Spring, her dead sister, as well as the story of how Edward came to be.
Let me talk about what I did like about this book. There’s no denying that this story lacked any heart or rich and warm characters, because that is simply what caught my attention right from the beginning to the end. I adored the two sisters immensely in this book, they were both complete polar opposites. One being extremely feisty and the other very endearing. I also loved the hearty and strong relationship between the two sisters, and the critical views that Battle-Felton presented on the challenges of motherhood. The amount of hardship that the sisters go through is absolutely heartbreaking. Some of the scenes in this story were quite brutal and difficult to read, but it was something that was necessary to the timeline that the book was based in.
I sometimes liked, but struggled with the writing style of this book. At times, I found myself completely enthralled and could not stop reading it, mostly because I was so invested in the two sisters’ lives. At other times, I actually felt a little frustrated and had minor feelings of impatience while reading this book. Some of the writing felt quite distorted, but it’s strange because the raw writing style is what made the characters very mesmerizing. You can tell that I am battling with myself here! I did love that this book explored the untold stories of emancipated slaves, and what exactly happens to them after they are freed. This is something we seldom think about, or even hear about and I absolutely loved that Remembered touched on this delicate and complex experience.
The only slightly negative comment that I had with Remembered, is that it took me a while to grasp the core story of this book and I struggled to get into the bones of the plot. It wasn't until I got to about the halfway point of the book that I actually began to truly immerse myself into the story, characters and the wave of emotions that hits you in this novel. I would say that the point where the Emancipation of slavery begins, is when this book truly shines. I also did feel that I wish the book was a little longer. I felt that the end was quite rushed and I craved to learn more about Edward, as well as to have read more from the later time period of 1910 in the story. Remembered felt quite relevant to our current time, even though it was based from a time long gone, not a lot has changed within the core system of these issues.
With all that said, I will say that Remembered was an absorbing, haunting and raw book. Yvonne Battle-Felton is truly a gifted and wonderful storyteller and I adored getting to know the two sisters and their journey from young womanhood to adulthood. This book is about close communities, motherhood, and the measures that mothers will go through to protect their children. It shows the complex mentality that develop during the course of slavery. It definitely wasn’t an easy book to read, it is intense, but you leave it feeling a sense of appreciation and enlightenment. This book will remain in your brain long after you're done reading it. It would also make for a great book club pick! I'm so glad to have finally read Remembered.
I am a music lover and always love pairing a song with each book that I read. I wanted to pick a song that expressed hope, and the endurance that the women in the plantation had to go through in order for their children to be able to be born free. You will understand what I mean when you read this book. This is an amazing song. I chose- 'Oh Freedom!' by The Golden Gospel Singers. Incredible song and an even more amazing choir.
Genre: Historical Fiction | Literary Fiction | Magical Realism
Publication Date: February 7, 2019
Pages: 240 Pages
Click Here for Nicole Barbosa's Podcast with Yvonne Battle-Felton on her debut book Remembered.
About Yvonne Battle-Felton (from Blackstone Publishing Website):
Yvonne was born in Pennsylvania, raised in New Jersey, and lived in Maryland for twenty years before moving to the UK. She holds an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD in creative writing from Lancaster University. She is a lecturer in Creative Writing and Creative Industries at Sheffield Hallam University. In 2017, Yvonne won the Northern Writer’s Fiction Award for Remembered, was commended for children’s writing in the Faber Andlyn BAME (FAB) Prize, and was short-listed for the Words and Women Competition. Most recently, she was long-listed for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Click Here for Yvonne Battle-Felton's Website