Source: Review copy received through contact with PR by the Book.
Book Description from Author Website (modified):
Suitcase Full of Dreams is a memoir that illustrates what living in the segregated South was like for a young black child. Hoy Kersh gives readers access to the sorrows and joys of growing up in the dirt-road, Jim Crow South in the 1940s and early '50s, just prior to the Civil Rights Movement.
Kersh shares her personal memories from a child's perspective. Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Kersh's father was the son of a German sheriff who had a black mistress. The Klan drove Kersh's family out of town after her grandfather died. They moved to Mobile, Alabama, where she lived until age 16. She spent most of her days questioning authority and avoiding her mother's heavy hand.
Suitcase Full of Dreams was an entertaining and interesting memoir. It covered the time between 1941 and 1956 (her birth to age 16) and was mainly set in Mobile, Alabama. The story tended to jump around in time, and I still haven't figured out how she could be 16 in 1956 if she was born in 1941. However, the stories--snippets of memories about her life--were easy enough to follow even though her age at the time was sometimes difficult to keep track of.
The author was very cynical as a child and, if someone said "don't do this," then she did it. She lied, gambled, skipped school (a private Catholic school), trespassed, etc. It's not like she had good role models, however. She told of her life of poverty, abuse at home, the hangings and killings by the KKK, segregation, and the scandals that went through the neighborhood every so often.
She didn't blame all whites as bad. However, I got a little tired of how she wasn't consistent in her blame-game. If her mother or father hit, whipped, or belted her, she excused it as "all they knew" due to segregation and the past slavery (of some) of her ancestors. If a Christian did something bad--like incest or hitting their children-then even if they were black or had a bad background, she blamed Christianity for the abuse. If a Christian did something right, they were odd or nice in spite of being Christian or trying to make her feel guilty for being rebellious. But, since her father idealized what life was like in Africa before the slave trade started (they were all queens and kings, highly civilized, no conflict, etc.), I can see why she was drawn to the African religions she knew little about...especially when she didn't like all the rules of the "white man's religion" from Catholic school.
The story ended abruptly as she's about to move to the North. Perhaps the author is planning on a sequel. She had a unique writing style that some people might find a little difficult to read at times. She also used a fair amount of bad language while telling her story. Overall, I was glad I read this book. I think people would enjoy this memoir if they're interested in what life was like for poor blacks in the highly-segregated South before the Civil Rights Movement really got going.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
Excerpt from Chapter One
I left the South so long ago, never to return, never looking back to allow yesterday to flood on in. Most likely the images from my past will disturb me, break through the barriers guarding my heart. Maybe blame it on the softness of the day, the sweet smell of the earth after the morning rain, the sun so hot it burns through me; whatever the reason, I surrender and see her, see me. A brown-eyed little girl tugs gently on my hand. Seems like she calls me from a distant shore. I answer her and the past floods into the present, Mississippi, Alabama, Grandma Emma, Mama, and Daddy. The life I walked away from, buried deep inside my chest, has come to life again, and the tears stream softly, laughter, sorrow, good times, hard times all exposed.
My faded birth certificate reveals so little. I have it until this day. Mother's name, Mabel Elease; colored; housekeeper; twenty-two years old, father's name, James Cosmore; colored; painter, twenty-four years old. Mama's firstborn, Walter, died at six months, and Bobby was three when I was born on January 24, 1941, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Cohoma County; home of the blues, run-down shacks, and cotton fields. I was named Catherine Rose.
Mama named me after two white women she worked for, gentle, middle-aged spinsters who loved her and treated her with respect. Miss Catherine was thin as a stick. Her eyes were almost violet colored, with the laugh lines around her mouth that happy people get.