Thursday, October 6, 2011

'Heart and Soul - The Story of America & African Americans' by Kadir Nelson

With all the “apps” out there, I wish someone would invent a “standing in awe” app.  That way I could just tap and let some computer algorithm explain how I feel.  Books like this one need that because there is no way to convey, in words, how truly magnificent it is.  You know how when you see a perfect sunset and you just watch it because words would cheapen the moment?  That’s the way I feel about this book.

The cover sets the tone for this future classic and… wow.  This story is told through the voice of a woman (Kadir’s grandmother) who has lived through the visit of the first slaves to the election of President Obama.  The narrator transcends time, as does our history.  In the telling of this story, our narrator is very honest.  And not from the “chip on the shoulder” angle either.  Just honest.  One of the first stories that made me go “what?” was hearing why Pap wouldn’t let his family eat black-eyed peas on New Years.

Another point was the picture of the whipping tree.  I’m from South Carolina and we used to visit Charleston all the time.  I hated it then but I miss it now.  Anyway, there was a street in Charleston that was two way.  In the middle of the street there was a large tree.  I remember my mom telling me that slaves used to hang from that tree.  The tree in this book isn’t the same tree, but I got that same weird feeling that I got when I saw this painting.  One of awe, horror, fascination, and sadness. 

Grandmother continues her story and every once in a while, throws in a dash of humor.  Suffice it to say that she wasn’t the only woman who found Dr. King attractive.  :-)  Hearing about our history from Grandmother is a treat, but what REALLY makes this book stand out are Kadir’s paintings.  And not just one or two.  No, we are treated to a painting on every. single.  page.  And since Kadir doesn’t do shoddy work ever, having this much talent in a book is real treat.  It’s almost impossible to pick my favorite painting but if I HAD to, then I would choose the very last.  After reading this book the last picture is the cherry.  What’s scary is; that picture would have the exact same impact even if you haven’t read the book.  Such is the power of Kadir’s paintings.

I’ve already started my “coffee table books for Christmas list” and this one is #3.  Take off the jacket and put this one out as soon as you get it.  As I was going through this book my five year old wanted to know what I was reading.  I showed him, then I showed him a picture of Kadir, then we went through the paintings in the book.  After we were done he looks at me and says, “Dad I want to be a painter”.  Freaking awesome.

As a parent, a bookseller, and a man of color I constantly hear that there aren’t books for “us”.  Well shut up because here you go.  I will also venture to say that this isn’t just a book for “us”.  This country wouldn’t be where it is today without the forced and volunteer help of African-Americans.  While our path may be unique, our history shouldn’t be.  Magnificent work Kadir.


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