The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
the New York Times bestseller
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
'I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.’ Oprah Winfrey
'Mathis traces the fates of Hattie’s 12 children and grandchildren over the course of the 20th century . . . [it] is remarkable.' Sunday Times
'Ms. Mathis has a gift for imbuing her characters’ stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison’s writing.' New York Times
Fifteen years old and blazing with the hope of a better life, Hattie Shepherd fled the horror of the American South on a dawn train bound for Philadelphia.
Hattie’s is a tale of strength, of resilience and heartbreak that spans six decades. Her American dream is shattered time and again: a husband who lies and cheats and nine children raised in a cramped little house that was only ever supposed to be temporary.
She keeps the children alive with sheer will and not an ounce of the affection they crave. She knows they don’t think her a kind woman — but how could they understand that all the love she had was used up in feeding them and clothing them.
How do you prepare your children for a world you know is cruel?
The lives of this unforgettable family form a searing portrait of twentieth century America. From the revivalist tents of Alabama to Vietnam, to the black middle-class enclave in the heart of the city, to a filthy bar in the ghetto, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is an extraordinary, distinctive novel about the guilt, sacrifice, responsibility and heartbreak that are an intrinsic part of ferocious love.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This beautifully written, emotional saga draws us into the world of one family over half a century. Starting in 1923, with a young girl moving from Georgia to Philadelphia after a horrible episode of racial violence, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie gives us an intimate peek into the lives of 12 interconnected characters, who are all anchored by elegant, hard-as-nails matriarch Hattie. Each of Ayana Mathis’ protagonists takes a distinct life path, from jazz musician to teen preacher, but they all struggle with heartbreak and longing, which seem to ripple out across generations. Though it can sometimes be heavy, the novel’s ultimately about finding those sparks of joy in life.
Mathis's remarkable debut traces the life of Hattie Shepherd through the eyes of her offspring, depicting a family whose members are distant, fiercely proud, and desperate for connection with their mother. When 16-year-old Hattie's newborn twins, her first with husband August, die from pneumonia in the winter of 1925, it is a devastation that will disfigure her for the rest of her life. As the novel moves from closeted musician Floyd's fearful attempt to love another man in 1948, to Six's flight to Alabama two years later after beating a boy nearly to death, Alice's rift with her brother Billups in the late 1960s, consumptive Bell's aborted suicide in 1975, and Cassie's descent into schizophrenia in the early 1980s, what ties these lives together is a longing for tenderness from the mother they call the General. Strong, angry Hattie despairs as August, an ineffectual though affectionate father, reveals himself to be a womanizer who is incapable of supporting the family. Hattie finds happiness with Lawrence, a gambler; after having his baby, Hattie leaves August and her other children and goes with Lawrence to Baltimore, but returns to the house on Wayne Street, in Philadelphia, almost immediately. Sick with longing for her dead twins and all that her children will never have, Hattie retreats into coldness. As her children age, they come to terms with their intense need for and resentment of the mother who kept them alive but starved their hearts, while Hattie faces a choice between anger and peace. Mathis weaves this story with confidence, proving herself a gifted and powerful writer.