Heroes gets stuck in the mud
African-Americans faced a harsh, brutal life in 1940s Mississippi. By Shirley Whiteside
MUDBOUND Hillary Jordan
MWilliam Heinemann £12.99 any African-Americans fought for their country during the Second World War, only to find on returning home that their position in society was unchanged. In the southern states, segregation was still a way of life and no amount of medals for bravery would allow a black man to sit at the front of the bus. This blatant injustice is heartbreakingly brought to life by Hillary Jordan in her debut novel, set in 1946 in the Mississippi Delta – where life on the land was tough and racism casually endemic.
In a tale that has echoes of the novels of John Steinbeck and Alice Walker, Jordan relates the story of the McAllan family, struggling to make a living from their farm, and their tenants the Jacksons – a black sharecropper family. Henry McAllan has brought his city-born wife Laura and their two young daughters to the Delta, where she is horrified by the primitive conditions on the farm he has bought and the fact that Pappy, Henry’s bitter old father, is to live with them.
She has companionship of sorts in Florence Jackson, who becomes her maid, while Hap, Florence’s husband, works the fields. When Jamie, Henry’s charming younger brother, and Ronsel, Florence’s eldest son, meet, they form a friendship based on their shared experiences of the horrors of the war in Europe. But in a town where a black man has to enter the general store by the back door, this friendship only serves to stir up trouble. EachofJordan’smaincharacters–Henry, Laura and Jamie McAllan, Hap, Florence and Ronsel Jackson – take turns to narrate the story. This does result in a little too much exposition at times, but the varied viewpoints allow for an intimate insight