This summer I asked Mariflo if Another Brooklyn is as good as it sounds and she said “it is that good.” And, oh boy, she is right.
The narrator August tells the story of her early childhood in Tennessee and being taken with her younger brother to Brooklyn by their father. During their early years they spent their time looking at Brooklyn of the 1970s through the window while their father was away at work. August assures her brother their mother will arrive in a few days. Confronting the fact of her mother’s death was a life-long issue for her.
Her father always took care of the two of them and she was always close to her brother. Her father (and brother) found stability and kindness in the mosque. When she became a teenager, she began to meet those she and her brother had seen outside their window. She had three friends: Gigi, Sylvia, and Angela, “sharing the weight of growing up ‘girl’ in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves, saying, ‘Here, help me carry this.’ ” It was the joy and beauty of their friendship that made this book “that good.”
The narrator begins her story with the burial of her father; she and her brother share a meal afterwards. As she eats her bacon slowly, teasing her brother, he notes she is still eating pork. ” ‘Everything but the grunt,’ she says.” She tells us:
As a child, I had not known the word anthropology or that there was a thing called “Ivy League.” I had not known that you could spend your days on planes, moving through the world studying death. Your whole life before this life an unanswered question, finally answered. I had seen death in Indonesia and Korea, death in Mumbai and Mongolia. I had watched the people of Madagascar exhume the muslin-wrapped bones of their ancestors, spray them with perfume, and ask those who had already passed to the next place for their stories, prayers, blessings. I had been home a month, watching my father die. Death didn’t frighten me, not now, not any more. But Brooklyn felt like a stone in my throat.
While Brooklyn may have been a stone in her throat, we know from the outset of the book that she left it on her own terms. She didn’t suffer the consequences she saw around her: teen pregnancy, drug addiction, sexual predation, death. It was a stone, not a death sentence.
One of the gems in this book is her description of the way her first boyfriend called her name: ” ‘August.’ So much breath around the sound that it was hard not to feel the summer light pouring out through his voice.”
Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn, Amistad, 2016, 192 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available from the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.