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Praise Song for the Widow [Hardcover]

Paule Marshall
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 15 1983
With all her children at university and her husband recently dead, Avey Johnson takes an annual cruise to the Caribbean. But this cruise is different, and strips her of all her pretensions. The author has written "Brown Girl, Brownstones".
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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About the Author

Paule Mashall is the author of Brown Girl, Brownstones, The Chosen Place, The Timeless People, Praisesong for the Widow, Soul Clap Hands and Sing, Reena and Other Stories, and Daughters. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she is now Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
With a strength born of the decision that had just come to her in the middle of the night, Avey Johnson forced the suitcase shut on the clothes piled inside and slid the lock into place. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Odd Style, but Deeper Meanings Dec 11 2002
...The occasionally brilliant wording and the solid characterization make Avey Johnson an engaging protagonist. Her journey from a confused, troubled widow on an expensive cruise to a liberated woman with deeper understanding of her cultural and familial heritage make this book worth reading. This journey is interspersed with recollections of her relationship with her dead husband. This allows the reader to empathize deeply with her plight.
On a Caribbean cruise, Avey Johnson begins to have symptoms of both mental and physical illness. Driven by needs she doesn't understand, she leaves the cruise and finds herself adrift in a tide of Patois-speaking islanders, who are all intent on a cultural pilgrimage to a neighboring island. Her meeting with an island patriarch draws her into the pilgrimage as well. There, she learns that this is the culture she abandoned at the same time she abandoned her working-class roots.
The flashbacks to her life with her husband Jay not only chronicle her life preceding the cruise but also give a greater understanding of Avey as she throws herself headlong into a mysterious journey of self-discovery. The greater familiarity with the character is one of the book's strongest points.
The reason the book only rates four stars is that its symbolism makes it inaccessible when simply read for pleasure. This is not an offense worthy of a whole star, so my actual rating is four and a half stars, or 90%.
The symbolism sprinkled throughout the book does provide constant rewards, though- like Shakespeare, you can never finish gaining new insight through re-reading.
I feel confident in recommending this book to anyone who enjoys character-driven fiction. The symbolism was made apparent to me, as I read the book as part of a writing course. With that in mind, use only as directed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Burden of Survival Dec 24 2000
By Lily B
"She even thinks that up in heaven / Her class lies late and snores,/ While poor black cherubs rise at seven / To do celestial chores." --"For a Lady I Know" by Countee Cullen
The Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen speaks of a creature of leisure in his short poem, "For a Lady I Know"--the type of person who expects those of an African-American heritage to handle matters of work even unto death. Jerome Johnson, the husband of the staid protagonist of Paule Marshall's _Praisesong for the Widow,_ Avey Johnson, lives the reality of Cullen's words. The industrious Jerome labors beneath an Irish supervisor who allows Jerome to do all the work in the department store they both work in, while the supervisor takes the credit. Jerome expresses his dismay about this in an argument he has with Avey one evening, in which she accuses him of cheating on her in the long hours he spends away from the home. He cries: "Okay, you go take my job at the store then! Go on. Go on down there and see how you like working for some red-faced Irishman who sits on his can all day laughing to himself at the colored boy he's got doing everything" (105)
When Jerome is young, newly married to Avey and living on Halsey Street, he is aware of the pressures of race working at the department store in the shipping room. Not only does he organize the store's floor so that it is efficiently run during its opened hours, he also stays after work late, slaving in the storeroom to ensure that the store will be smoothly operating during the next day. Jerome's supervisor realizes that Jerome runs shipping and receiving, although "[Jerome has] to be careful not to make it appear so" (92). This truth is known throughout the store, even to the salesgirls who secretly admire Jerome's work ethic and charm.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Soggy in the middle Aug. 10 2000
By A Customer
I had heard such great things about this book and was eager to read it. The story flowed well in the beginning and the author's use of language was exquisite. However, the story seemed to sag in the middle with confusing flip-flopping between Avey's past and the present situations that she found herself in. It was a little hard to tie these elements together; I still don't know what the significance of the old man was. This was a book club selection so it will be interesting to see what the others in my group think about it.
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