2 out of 4 stars
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Physical, mental, and alcohol abuse are the main actors in Of Prayers and Beatings by Geraldine Cynthia Forté. In it, the author follows members of the Duarté family through years of abusive cycles stretching from days of enslavement until modern times. In the mid-1900s, Cleophas Duarté finds himself in a desperate situation made worse by racial hatred, and he leaves Mississippi seeking a better life for himself. Unfortunately, the demons that rooted in his mind as he was growing up follow him and make that better life seem out of reach. Will he disrupt the abusive cycle with his own family? Are the males destined to be violent? Are the females destined to be maltreated?
I found the author's correlations between the conduct of slave and free black families quite interesting. The author posits that the abusive discipline used on slaves continued as part of black family culture. Forté says that black families adopted violence to keep their pride and standing because the man of the house was respected only if he had control of his family. Children beaten after public misconduct were made to wear clothes that would reveal their wounds, showing others that their disobedience had been addressed. In times where material goods were hard to come by, keeping the family reputation strong was a way of having standing in the community.
With that as a foundation, the author introduces readers to the Duartés, whose father disciplines through beatings and fear. I was interested to see where the plot went, but it didn't go far. Unfortunately, I had no trouble laying this book down for several days. The persistent pattern of abuse was not something I looked forward to poring over, and the plot was confusing at times, with the focus on characters changing regularly.
Cleophas disappears about halfway through the book and doesn't appear again until the very end. In between, the reader discovers story after story of abuse. Some of it is directly related to Cleophas through the life of his daughter, Cleo. Some of the narratives, however, seem to be merely stories the author wanted to include. While they are about abuse, they don't further the plot or develop characters pertinent to the story. I was disappointed to realize that the closer to the end, the more the tapestry of this book became tattered and disordered.
I give this book 2 out of 4 stars. It appears to have been edited, leaving only a few grammar and punctuation mistakes; however, the text could move better. Some very long paragraphs talk about not only different topics but different time periods. Additionally, there are several places where time breaks need to be inserted. Therefore, I am taking one star because the book includes ten or more editing mistakes. I am taking the other star because the book is erratic and contains chapters that have nothing to do with the plot. The story is a good one, but it needs some cleaning up to be more coherent.
I recommend this book to people interested in the way abuse and mental illness can affect families. However, if read as is, this book is a little hard to get through. People looking for a polished manuscript will need to look elsewhere. Prospective readers should also know that there are scenes depicting sex and, obviously, violence. There is also profanity in the book. I think that another round of editing regarding content could smooth out the rough patches and connect the storyline better, making for a very good read.
Of Prayers and Beatings
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