Silver Sparrow & Take Me to the River
“I believe that history is everywhere. You don’t have to move your story to find the history. Wherever the story is set, there is history already there. As the writer you just choose to highlight it or not.” – Tayari Jones
Silver Sparrow Quick Summary: Two girls come to grips with the realities and impact of their parents choices—including bigamy.
Book Thoughts: After reading a few Amazon reviews, I decided that I needed to finish this book in 2 days like everybody else. Mission accomplished and I appreciate the motivation. Silver Sparrow is told by the daughters of a man who marries one woman out of obligation (publicly) and another out of lust (secretly). I enjoyed Dana’s narration—the prettier, secret offspring. However, when the other daughter, Chaurisse, begins her chronicle, I questioned why Dana couldn’t somehow tell the whole story. While I enjoyed the story plot and it’s southern settings, I did have some issues with the back-story transitions, but since the back-stories were so intriguing, that’s a minor issue. Overall, Jones presents a strong family of characters with the type of quirks, strengths, and secrets that drive you quickly to the final pages. As reflected in the quick excerpt below, I especially loved how Jones tied in the story of Mary Woodson and Al Green. Grade: B+
Quick Excerpt: On October 18, 1974, when a really pissed-off black woman flung a pot of hot grits on Al Green, her hair was freshly pressed and curled by none other than my mama. As a result of our little brush with Negro history, nobody made Al Green jokes in our house, or even in the Pink Fox, where you can imagine a lot of women fantasized about taking revenge on a lying man. I think the women like the story not just because of the drama of it, but because grits were the weapon of choice.
Thoughts on a Reference: Jones notes in the Harvard Gazette, “I was thinking about the woman who threw grits on Al Green throughout ‘Silver Sparrow’ because, particularly in the black community in the South, that story is referenced so much.” Well, I thought about this familiar story so much that after I finished the book, I started my research. We begin with the 1974 Jet magazine article.
In 2000, Al Green published the details of his encounters with Mary Woodson in his biography Take Me to the River:
I went to my room to change my clothes. When I went to the kitchen, Mary was standing at the stove, stirring a big pot of water with a wooden spoon. She turned around and asked me had I ever thought about getting married, I replied, “Maybe we should talk about that in the morning.” When I asked her what she was cooking, she didn’t answer me. Then suddenly, she whispered in my ear, “I would never do anything to hurt you.”
While the grit throw is the most memorable part of Green’s detail, the facts concerning his infatuation with this woman—her beauty and just her presence as a whole are just as interesting. He had to have this woman and didn’t care about the real life that existed outside of their being together. Because this woman couldn’t break herself free from the life choices made before Green, she throws grits on him and proceeds to officially conclude any other possibility of a future life for herself with him or anybody else in this world.
I wouldn’t have considered giving Green’s grits episode another thought without Jones mention (outside of the typical ‘woman gone mad’ jokes) . Maybe she’ll reference Teddy Pendagrass riding around with Tanika Watson (the drag queen) in her next book. I’d love that! Just kidding (or not).
Happy reading, y’all!