📚 THE BOOK OF HARLAN 📚
TITLE: The book of Harlan
AUTHOR: Bernice McFadden
PUBLISHER: Akashic Books
RATING: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️ Reminiscent
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
BUY THE BOOK: THE BOOK OF HARLAN
The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan’s parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he eventually becomes a professional musician. When Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are invited to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre–affectionately referred to as “The Harlem of Paris” by black American musicians–Harlan jumps at the opportunity, convincing Lizard to join him.
But after the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald–the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany–irreparably changing the course of Harlan’s life. Based on exhaustive research and told in McFadden’s mesmeric prose, The Book of Harlan skillfully blends the stories of McFadden’s familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.
Journey into the extraordinary story of a man who was born December 24, 1917 – and lived a vivid life through the dash… During the Roaring 20’s, the Great Depression, World War II and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Harlan’s life was like that of a rolling stone.
This book takes place in sections, beginning with the conception of Harlan, with his young parents Emma Robinson and Sam Elliot. Emma is the daughter of a respected southern preacher and very musically inclined. Sam currently the jack of all trades, runs across Emma and is smitten. Soon after their meeting and dating, they are graced with the manchild, Harlan Elliot.
Harlan’s early years are spent with his grandparents while the young Sam and Emma set off to make a life in the world. After many, many years of trying to find an appropriate place where their talents fit in and failing, tragedy strikes and the young couple returns briefly to Macon.
The summer of 1931, Harlem was the place to be. The family moved there after a visit with Emma’s childhood friend, Lucille. Harlem was exciting and very cool. It was jam-packed with humanity and with music. People came in multitudes to listen and to dance to the jazz, blues and swing music. Harlan’s parents were right in the midst of this having the famous likes of Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie as recurrent visitors. Harlan grows up with music in his heart and in his blood.
The teenage years for Harlan were a trying time. Having a musical mother, who taught piano, Harlan took lessons yet didn’t quite have a feel for the piano. After being introduced to the guitar in high school, he finds the thing that strums his heart like the piano does his mother. Harlan’s life again takes a heady turn.
After a short life on the road, as a guitarist with Lucille. Harlan finds himself back in Harlem contemplating his next move in life. After one night of drinking his sorrows away, another one of his favorite pastimes, Harlan meets the man who would become his best friends, Leo (Lizard) Robbins. After doing sets with various bands all over Harlem, the duo forms their own band and life is exhilarating. Harlan often throws caution to the wind and lives through – drugs, alcohol, women and fast living.
A major turning point in their life hits when their band is asked to go to Paris to play in a club there. The time is the early spring of 1940 and Paris is rebuilding its nightlife. After a few short months though the Nazis invade Paris and start their reign of terror in the City of Light. Neither Harlan nor Lizard got out of France in time and both are incarcerated in the Buchenwald concentration camp. Another turning point in Harlan’s life.
Harlan survives after 5 long years and arrives back home a broken man. Carrying around the hardships he endured in Buchenwald, Harlan struggles to come back to life. Another turning point.
Through The Book of Harlan, McFadden tells a story not often heard of during that time. It’s often talked about and studied, how the Jews were persecuted during Hitlers reign of terror, yet it very rarely mentions the lives of the others. McFadden shed’s an ounce of light here. This book does an excellent duty in guiding you through the life of Harlan, the people he touched and those who touched him. This book was well written, with short chapters and long prose where needed. The character development was astounding and multifaceted. This was only my second book by this author but it most certainly won’t be the last. History and music enthusiasts will adore this book.