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Mother of Pearl [Paperback]

Melinda Haynes
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (229 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 1 2000 Oprah's Book Club
Capturing all the rueful irony and racial ambivalence of small-town Mississippi in the late 1950s, Melinda Haynes' celebrated novel is a wholly unforgettable exploration of family, identity, and redemption. Mother of Pearl revolves around twenty-eight-year-old Even Grade, a black man who grew up an orphan, and Valuable Korner, the fifteen-year-old white daughter of the town whore and an unknown father. Both are passionately determined to discover the precious things neither experienced as children: human connection, enduring commitment, and, above all, unconditional love. A startlingly accomplished mixture of beauty, mystery, and tragedy, Mother of Pearl marks the debut of an extraordinary literary talent.

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Oprah Book Club® Selection, June 1999: Twenty-eight-year-old Even Grade is a black man who was orphaned as a child; 15-year-old Valuable Korner is a white girl who might as well have been. Petal, Mississippi, circa 1956, seems an unlikely spot for these two to connect, but it soon becomes apparent in Mother of Pearl that a friendship across race lines is just one of many miracles waiting to happen in this small Southern town. Melinda Haynes's remarkable debut novel begins in a hot August, when young Val's lifelong friendship with Jackson McClain is starting to change into something more profound, and Even is falling crazy in love with Joody Two Sun, a mixed-race woman with amazing powers.

Woven in and around these two central love stories are myriad other characters, other tales. There is 16-year-old Joleb Green, for example, whose mother was incapacitated by a stroke when he was born, and who was raised by the black housekeeper, Grace. There is Even's friend Canaan, an older black man who spends his time reading Greek tragedy and writing his work "The Reality of the Negro"; Valuable's mother, Enid, the town whore; and Neva and Bea, a lesbian couple who have helped to raise the girl. Until this year, blacks and whites have occupied separate universes, for the most part; then Joleb Green suffers a terrible accident, and it is Joody Two Sun who saves his life and Grace who restores his soul. At the same time, a pregnant Val arrives on Joody and Even's doorstep, hungry for the understanding and acceptance she cannot find at home. Though at first Even is resistant, Val's humanity soon transcends her color in his mind:

Even chuckled and shook his head, happy for a reason he couldn't distinguish other than at that moment of Canaan's near-perfect cast, all seemed right with the world, as right as a thing can be what with a white girl camped out in the middle of the Quarter with no plans of leaving.
Gradually, without really intending it, Joleb, Val, Even, Joody, Grace, and Canaan form something that looks suspiciously like a family--a relationship that will soon be tested to the limit when Val's baby is born.

Melinda Haynes has taken on a Herculean task, crafting a multicharacter story that reaches across racial barriers to encompass an entire community. She doesn't shy away from the ugliness in life--bigotry of every stripe, mean-spiritedness, betrayal, thoughtless cruelty, and death--but what interests her is the potential of the human heart to find space within itself for the most unexpected people. With its strong, lyrical language and fully realized characters, Mother of Pearl is a fine novel and a terrific introduction to a new literary voice. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In prose both rugged and beautiful, Haynes plumbs the secrets of the South in her stunning debut novel. Set in Petal, Miss., across the Leaf River from Hattiesburg, the narrative opens in the summer of 1956, shortly after Even Grade, a 27-year-old black man, has met Joody Two Sun, a seer whos known as a witch, and not long after Valuable Korner, the 14-year-old daughter of the towns one loose woman, gets her Blessing of Blood, as Joody Two Sun calls it. Evenso named from the note his mother left when she abandoned him at a Memphis orphanageis a decent man, kindheartedly building a family of friends; while Valuable, the daughter of a dying Southern line, an orphan of sorts herself, is deeply in need of family. Valuable and Jackson McLain, the boy down the street, fall in love, and Haynes captures that phenomenon delicately and persuasively. In a heartbeat Valuable is pregnant, and as Jackson is forced to move away, Valuable turns to Joody and Even for support as she carries the baby she comes to think of as Pearl. Despite Evens help, Valuable, whose family hides secrets far darker than this pregnancy, seems doomed to pay for the sins of the past. Indeed, Hayness capacious novel is very much about the justice wrought by destiny, but it is also about finding family, people who nurture, forgive and care for each other; in the novels resolution, those most deserving of love are brought together. Haynes is fearless in portraying her characters flaws, their pettiness and racism, their erring thoughts, but shes also merciful, letting them grow and change during the course of the narrative. While perhaps too many of the characters take the stage, each with tragic accounts of their lives, Haynes nevertheless triumphs with a rare and memorable ensemble. This wise, luminous novel demonstrates her great giftsfor language, courageous storytelling and compassion. BOMC and QPB selections.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A COMMANDING READING Feb. 19 2004
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Audio Cassette
Oprah picked it, and so do millions of others because this powerful debut novel captivates with its truth. Set in 1956 Mississippi, with a compelling narrative that reveals characters in all their frailty and glory, Mother Of Pearl synthesizes the longings and aspirations humans share.
The author speaks with a compassionate voice and actor Nan Visitor performs with a commanding one, perfectly capturing the nuances of saints and sinners alike in this memorable tale of what can happen in a single year.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book You Remember May 22 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is a book that you will not forget. Mother of Pearl is an amazing novel that shows the differences in society circles in the south (racism and prejudice). The book is set in Petal, Mississippi. 14 year old white Valuable lives with her grandmother and has one true friend, Jackson. Valuable was abandoned as a baby by her town [prostitute] mother. For a while the book seperates the stories of Valuable and a young black man named Even (who was orphaned as a baby) and brings their paths together in the middle of the book through Joody. Joody is considered the town's crazy woman (voodoo witch). Valuable goes to Joody to try and find out about herself. Even falls in love with Joody. When Valuable's grandmother dies her mother comes back and makes her life miserable. Valuable falls in love with Jackson (who we find out is her half-brother, but neither Valuable or Jackson know their father is the same man). Valuable becomes pregnant and Jackson's family moves him far away. Valuable has no contact with him and can't tell him that she's pregnant. Valuable comes to love and depend on her gay aunt, Even, Joody, Grace, and Jackson's best friend. During the birth Valuable has complications and dies. Even takes the baby as his own to raise because he can't make the baby an orphan, because of his own past. Jackson learns that Valuable is dead when he returns to see her with flowers in hand only to be forced to read her tombstone. This book shows that love and friendship really do conquer all. This is an unforgetable read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Pearl is a boy; his mother is a seer..... June 30 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This novel is the story of 28-yr-old Even Grade who grew up as an orphan in Mississippi and Joody, a seer, the mother of Pearl (a grey-eyed male). Opening in 1956 in the magnolia state where the two meet; ending five years later (1961) in Alabama, the cotton state, when Pearl is four and his friend Sophy Marie (named after Sophocles) is three. She's the daughter of Grace and Cannan Mosley. Pearl had said, "Girls don't like to be bossed." She uses the Negro language of the fifties.
When I was eleven, I had a half-sister named Mary Ruth Mosley whose mother died and, subsequently, the 3-yr-old child was adopted by someone from her mother's family. The name Mosley brought back memories of the loss of a little girl I loved very much.
This is promoted as a tale of the search for identify and the power of renewal. It is based on one of the stories Ray Haynes passed on to his wife. She uses these quotes (which are signifigant): "Fate has terrible power. You cannot escape it by wealth or war. No fort will keep it out, no ships outrun it" by Sophocles. "Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders," by William Faulkner who knew the South and its inhabitants better than almost any other writer.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Feel like I wasted my time. May 28 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I should have given up on this book early on but I stubbornly stuck with it. The story did get a little better...but I still feel as though I wasted my time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Masterpiece May 18 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
MOTHER OF PEARL is a novel about the truths of life and love. Set in Petal, Mississippi in the summer of 1956, Haynes opens her story with a vague description of the initial characters, but this only draws the reader in furthur to know more. The story unfolds for 28 year old Even Grade, a black man who is an orphan in need of a family. As Even finds himself falling in love with the town crazy, Joody Two Sun, 14 year old Valuable Korner is also experiencing new love in her lifelong friend Jackson McLain.
Haynes finds a way to incorporate very colorful and descriptive language into a masterpiece that comes together beautifully to create one big picture. Some think that the complexity of the language takes away from the book, but I think that it adds to the overall effect that the reader experiences when discovering this heartfelt story of two lives.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Review for Mother of Pearl March 19 2004
By Kim M
Format:School & Library Binding
This book is a very slow read. It takes quite a while for the book to grab the reader, then its still moves pretty slowly. The books contains many stories, most seem to intertwine with each other effortlessly. However there are some chapters that should have been edited out. I wish the author would have focused on just a couple of the characters instead of making every character that was introduced into a main character. I feel since this book is called "Mother of Pearl" that it should have focused more on Val and Jackson. At the end I had more questions than answers.
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1.0 out of 5 stars A Simile Factory Jan. 13 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Like a typewriter stuck on one letter, this book is full of similes. As repetitive as a woodpecker working on an old oaken log, this book is full of similes. If you enjoy similes like a dog enjoys scratching his fleas, then you may find this book entertaining.
Like a freshman English professor tired of reading excessive adjectives in assignments, I did not.
I too stuck it through to the very end, wading through the tedious and verbose prose; probably more because I'm stubborn (and always finish my books) and not due to the fact that I was enjoying the read.
The storyline, though sometimes confusing, was above average. It almost begs a sequel. But, like an imperfect movie that gets mediocre reviews, this book needs no continuation.
As a fairly frequent reader, I've got one last question:
How did this make Oprah's book club?!!!
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Mother of Pearl Review
Mother of Pearl is not a novel you can forget. The author brings up issues that affect society and shows that with the help of those in their lives it creates who they are in the... Read more
Published on Dec 10 2003 by Marisol
4.0 out of 5 stars sweet, thick, and slow as molasses
When I began this book, I actually put it down and picked it up again months later. It is a slow-starter, pulling you in gradually, bit by bit, until you're half-in, half-out of... Read more
Published on July 25 2003 by Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic
I adored the prose-like writing of this book. It was beautifully descriptive. The tea-colored water, the old worn sign whose purpose had been forgotten... Read more
Published on April 4 2003 by Nicole Laflamme
3.0 out of 5 stars Strange
This book was very different from all the other books I have read before. It told a couple stories at once and it got very confusing to follow at first but then once i got used to... Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2003 by Christina
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful!
I am shocked by some of the bad reviews this book received. I thought it was outstanding. It is beautifully written. The characters are diverse, magical and thoughtfully crafted. Read more
Published on Oct. 11 2002 by E. Eig
1.0 out of 5 stars The Reader's Guide to Poor Writing...
The reviewer who used the word "pretentious" summed this one up. This book is nothing if not a long, boring, poorly edited anecdote. Read more
Published on Sept. 29 2002 by Ian McIntyre
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