Wednesday, August 8, 2012

book review: Babylon Sisters by Pearl Cleage

The backstory: Babylon Sisters is the second novel in Pearl Cleage's West End series. Although this book isn't a sequel to Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do (my review), the main characters from Some Things do pop up a few times here, which will delight readers who enjoyed the first novel.

I first read Babylon Sisters soon after it came out, and I'm re-reading and reading all of her novels this year. As I re-read it, I was amazed how many of the details I recalled.

The basics: Babylon Sisters focuses on Catherine, who describes her work perfectly in this passage: "What I do is coordinate and integrate services for programs assisting female refugees and immigrants. Atlanta is a magnet for people trying to make a new start in a new country, and even though the town’s natives still think in terms of black and white, in reality we’re looking more and more like the Rainbow Coalition." She's also a single mother to a smart, confident seventeen-year-old young woman who longs to know her father, but Catherine remains committed to keeping that secret from her.

My thoughts: It's no secret Pearl Cleage is one of my all-time favorite writers (my reviews of What Looks Like Crazy on An Ordinary Day and I Wish I Had a Red Dress.) I love her ability to write characters who can simultaneously be human beings struggling with romance and trying to make the world a better place. Pearl Cleage's novels make me feel like I'm sitting at the greatest dinner party ever. Her characters eat, drink, think, speak and act in ways that inspire me and leave me breathless:
"There are always a million answers—the generals and the rebels make sure of that—but when you really think about it, there’s no good reason to try to kill as many people as you can, for as long as you can, until the ones who are left surrender their lives, or their resources, or their culture, or their self-respect, or their ancestors, or their spirits, or their oil, until they get strong enough to throw you off their backs and the whole cycle starts all over again. Thinking about it can make you feel powerless and scared, and that was no way to end an evening that had evolved into one of the best I’ve had in too long."
Catherine is the heart and soul of this novel, and I loved her personally and professionally. She's smart, driven, loyal to her friends, and a wonderful mother. What makes her great, however, are her raw honesty and her expression of fears and vulnerabilities:
"I wondered if it was possible to be in love with a man and develop a vocabulary free of the responses that make every conversation a minefield of hurt feelings, half-truths, and dashed expectations."
I'm rarely sad when I finish a novel because I'm usually eager to find out how it ends and ponder my thoughts on the novel as a whole. Babylon Sisters, however, is the rare novel that makes me sad when I finish because I want to go on glimpsing into the lives of Catherine and her friends because they feel like my friends.

Favorite passage:  "Trying to change poor people’s lives is never as glamorous or inspirational as they make it when some do-gooders get the central role in a Hollywood movie. In real life, Sam’s experience is probably closer to the truth, a long series of unrewarded sacrifices and thankless tasks that rarely impact the lives of the people you want to rescue."

The verdict: Babylon Sisters is a rallying cry for social justice, a love story, a touching tale of a mother-daughter relationship, and a story about the family we make for ourselves, but most of all it's a beautifully written novel filled with memorable characters faced with difficult decisions, both personally and professionally. And it makes readers think about the choices we wish we would make and the choices we fear we might make.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: March 29, 2005
Source: purchased for my Kindle

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Babylon Sisters from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

12 comments:

  1. I really need to read one of her novels one of these days!!

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    1. Yes you do! I hope my continued devotion to Pearl Cleage makes some people pick up her novels:-)

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  2. Oooooh -- okay, now I'm super jazzed -- think I can start with this one rather than the first book? I love the premise and your 5 of 5 rating.

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    1. Audra, I think you could definitely start with this one. There would be a few details that wouldn't have the same impact, but you wouldn't even know what you were missing. I can't wait to hear your thoughts!

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  3. The more you talk about Cleage, the more I feel remiss for not having read anything by her. Off to remedy that now! Fantastic review, and choice of quotes.

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    1. Zibilee, I would love for you to read Cleage and discuss it with you!

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  4. Woah...major mistake here apparently....I donated this one some time ago unread. Your passion for this one makes me want to add it back to my future reads list:)

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    1. Diane, I'm a huge fan of Cleage. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you read one of her titles!

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  5. Wow, it sounds like a really good book! Thanks for recommending it!

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    1. Willa, I hope you take time to read it. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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  6. I just finished this earlier this week! Good book.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!