The Plot: ‘The Wedding’ by Dorothy West is a novel set in 1950’s America. It follows a light-skinned Black girl, Shelby, on the eve of her wedding to a white jazz musician. Shelby comes from a wealthy family who oppose the match and the core plot is about them trying to persuade her to jilt her intended. But this novel is really about the backstory of Shelby’s family as it uses the principal characters to go back in time and explain how they came to be so prominent. From the great-grandmother who was a Southern plantation owner, through to the young Black boy who managed to attend Harvard, it’s an exciting tale through the history of slavery and emancipation.
Rating: This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. A contemporary of Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, Dorothy West is a somewhat overlooked figure in the Harlem Renaissance. She only wrote three books in her lifetime, but the sheer power of ‘The Wedding’ shows that had nothing to do with lack of skill. Her books were initially looked over by publishers who had a narrow idea of what being Black meant and did not think books about wealthy or privileged Blacks would be popular. However, this book feels surprisingly contemporary and many of its themes still resonate today. It is a story of family and duty, racism and colourism. It is about the stories we tell ourselves and how we use the concept of “legacy” to construct our sense of self. If you are going to read one book that I’ve recommended, make it this one.
Good bits: I could rave about this book forever. Firstly, the beautiful, creative language evokes the early morning mist in Martha’s Vineyard and the lazy sun of the South so dreamily. I wish I could use words as well as this author can. Secondly, the characters were so imperfectly human and compelling. The author can insert a short line of dialogue or small gesture that immediately sums up a character and makes them come to life. Thirdly, the book is so full of nuance and theme. It makes you really think and there’s no right or wrong. The wonder of this book is in its simplicity, which subtly makes you question your beliefs.
Not so good bits: N/A
Overall: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennet, ‘Passing’ by Nella Larson and ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston. But I am going to need everyoneto read it. Now. Go on, buy it now. Promise, you won’t regret it.
Thank you to Virago Press who #gifted me this book as part of a Black History Month bundle. You have forever changed my life by sharing this book with me.