What a book. What a stunning debut.
Memphis by Tara M Stringfellow is one of my must reads for 2022, I honestly can’t find enough superlatives for this book, you have to read it.
Spanning seventy years, Memphis tells the story of the North women.
In 1995 Miriam has taken her daughters, Joan, and Mya, and fled back to her childhood home in Memphis to escape from her violent husband Jax. From there an epic tale of love, loss and family unfolds….
From the back….
Joan can’t change her family’s past.
But she can create her future.
Joan was only a child the last time she visited Memphis. She doesn’t remember the bustle of Beale Street on a summer’s night. She doesn’t know she’s as likely to hear a gunshot ring out as the sound of children playing. How the smell of honeysuckle is almost overwhelming as she climbs the porch steps to the house where her mother grew up. But when the front door opens, she does remember Derek.
This house full of history is home to the women of the North family. They are no strangers to adversity; resilience runs in their blood. Fifty years ago, Hazel’s husband was lynched by his all-white police squad, yet she made a life for herself and her daughters in the majestic house he built for them. August lives there still, running a salon where the neighbourhood women gather. And now this house is the only place Joan has left. It is in sketching portraits of the women in her life, her aunt and her mother, the women who come to have their hair done, the women who come to chat and gossip, that Joan begins laughing again, begins living.
Told through the eyes of Joan, Miriam, August, and Hazel; Memphis is a tribute to the bonds of sisterhood, a tale of mothers and daughters.
Tara M Stringfellow has managed to span seven decades of history while telling the personal, story of a black southern family through its women. Each of them dealing with trauma, each determined that their daughter will have a different life.
The story jumps between different timelines and different characters seamlessly. I never felt lost, distracted, or eager to back to a different character. Each woman’s story was equally engaging, each character beautifully written and different from the others, I loved each of their quirks, they truly are characters who you’ll take to your heart.
I am a fan of multiple timelines in a book, in Memphis, it is an effective way of showing how family secrets and tragedy can leave a very long shadow over future generations.
It is, at times, a difficult read. Stringfellow doesn’t hold back, she covers racism, discrimination, abuse, and murder through one family, it feels incredibly intimate, it feels almost as though you’re a fly on the wall watching their tragedies, joys and triumphs unfold.
I must give a nod to Memphis too because this book is a love letter to the city the North women call home.
Its’s about the women who come to August’s salon to have their hair done and gossip; it’s about the activists who meet at Hazel’s home, the shop down the street that’s a mainstay throughout the seventy years, the vibrant music scene. It’s about the city and its community, the good and the bad.
Through the pages, Memphis came to life in a way that hadn’t been prepared for. I could picture the streets at different times, could feel the stifling heat, hear the music, see the bright colours and the faded facade of Miss Dawn’s pink house. I salivated over the food.
I felt as though I was exploring and getting to know Memphis with Joan and her family. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that my knowledge of the city and its history is sketchy to say the least, this book set my curiosity alight.
The city itself became a character, a place I desperately wanted to know more about, I place I want to explore myself; so much so I’ve amended my American road trip to spend more time there. I don’t think any other author has ever managed that feat.
This is a book that has everything but most importantly it is a story that never loses sight of hope; no matter how dark things get, whatever the challenges, whatever sacrifices these women make, there is always hope, there is always love and there is laughter.
I don’t know if I’ve managed to do this book justice, probably not.
I hope my ramblings convince you to pick this one up, I promise you won’t regret, it’ll pull you in quickly and keep you hooked until the very last sentence.
I can’t wait to see Tara M Stringfellow comes up with in future, she’s definitely an author who will forever be on my radar.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm