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[192] Like Trees, Walking – Ravi Howard

liketrees“We have come a long way over the years, Mobile, but today we have been forced to look back to the times we thought were over . . . Tell me, on God’s green earth, in a land governed by the Constitution, by the Fourteenth Amendment, is there a wrong place? I ask you, is there a right time for a man to be hanged on a city street?” [52-53]

Like trees, Walking is riveting and gripping. It’s based on the true story of a modern-day lynching in America, which brought on the Beulah Mae Donald vs. United Klans of America, Inc. civil trial in 1987. On a cool morning in 1981, in Mobile, Alabama, Paul Deacon returns home from his night-shift job at the paper mill and finds his friend, Michael Donald, hung on the wiry limbs of a tree.

Twenty two years later, Roy Deacon, Paul’s younger brother, recaptures the plaintive events that took place after the nineteen-year-old’s horrifying murder. The passing of time does very little to palliate Roy’s anger and agony even though tears have long been dried. He recalls that disbelief still pervaded the community on the day of the funeral. The police’s perfunctory investigation report—that it was drug-related and that Michael might be the convenient victim of some unfortunate circumstance, rips the community in Mobile apart.

Having assisted in his father mortuary, retrieving and embalming corpses, does not ready Roy for coping with his friend’s death, for the shock of finding out somebody is dead is only magnified when you find out how. When every evidence points to a racial hate crime. The failure to subject perpetrator(s) to justice renders mourning more difficult and bereavement unconsoled.

“Paul could not hold back the tears as he leaned against the opened door [of the casket] and ran his fingers along the wood. He pulled out his handkerchief and rubbed it over his face. It’s hard to pay respect to the murdered without dwelling on the crime.” [142]

The writing is succinct and concise, but internal. Since it’s told in retrospect through Roy, the events are filtered through his eyes. Despite his myopic vision to the crime, he gives us layers of lamentation that projects from personal grievance to the society at large. Grief pervades like smoke in his narrative, which consistently trickles back to the tree where Michael was found. Even after the tree was hacked, the power of association, or, as Toni Morrison has called it rememory in Beloved, still entraps those whose lives were changed forever by the tragedy. It reminds us that all races will never be viewed as equals, but we live in denial that such events continue to occur in the present day.

252 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

15 Responses

  1. Matt,
    This is a wonderful review…I must read this book. I can’t believe that there wasn’t more outrage over this crime, especially in 1981!! I was about 12 so honestly I don’t even remember this happening. Rememory is true no matter what you try to do to erase the pain or association with the event.

  2. Well, I was 15 when this happened and I don’t remember either. Unbelievable, but then again, we had a girl in our community that married a black gentleman, and the KKK burned a cross in her parents’ yard. This was probably in the mid-eighties. The book sounds intense, but something we should all probably read. Awesome review.

  3. I’m with everyone else in not remembering this happening, but I should. I was 10 at the time. I’ve not really read anything at all dealing with Civil Rights. I’ve mainly covered that in movies, like Mississippi Burning. This is definitely going on my TBR pile! Great review, Matt.

  4. It sounds like this isn’t what one would call an easy read, but an important one. I’m going to look for it, because although I think it might break my heart, I think it’s a part of American culture that people need to be more aware of. Thanks for this review – I wouldn’t have known about this book otherwise!

  5. Staci:
    Consider how much buzz there was in the media regarding the Rodney King incident in 1992, this story was almost overlooked. I highly recommend everyone to read this book, which is important in our history and is well-written.

  6. Sandy:
    I have always felt an outsider to this racial conflict, let alone KKK. But the book is well-researched and well-written. I place it among the works of Toni Morrison. Ravi Howard has a knack for writing that is so succinct and yet poetic and internal.

  7. Jennifer:
    Ah, I have Mississippi Burning in my Netflix queue. When this particular case happened, i wasn’t even in the country yet, so I don’t know anything about lynching.

  8. Steph:
    You nail it. I think a big part of making America the melting pot and creating harmony is to confront and recognize the fact that the country has gone through some very ugly racial history.

  9. Matthew–This is a great review. You so well describe the essence of the book.
    I have read it, and want to skim it again after reading your review. Thanks so much.

  10. I remembered that was my first year in college. Some civil right groups on campus had rally for the case. I’m glad it’s set on the mind of Ravi Howard to write a novel based on the true incidence. I’ll have to search for it, because it’s important to know our history.

  11. karin:
    Thanks to you or I won’t have heard about the book. It’s an important book that I’m sure will be re-read.

  12. John:
    I highly recommend the book. You should keep your rye on it.

  13. […] American literature as I devoted the entire month of February to this genre. The last book read is Like Trees, Walking by Ravi […]

  14. […] American literature as I devoted the entire month of February to this genre. The last book read is Like Trees, Walking by Ravi […]

  15. […] writers. Beloved, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Another Country, Sula, And This Too Shall Pass and Like Trees, Walking were read. On to the highlights of some of the best […]

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