i received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. all opinions below are my own.
The Talking Drum by Lisa Braxton
In 1971, the fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon. The project promises to transform the dying factory town into a thriving economic center, with a profound effect on its residents. Sydney Stallworth steps away her law degree in order to support her husband Malachi’s dream of opening a cultural center and bookstore in the heart of their black community, Liberty Hill. Across the street, Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to frequent outbursts.
Six blocks away and across the Bellport River Bridge lies Petite Africa, a lively neighborhood, where time moves slower and residents spill from run-down buildings onto the streets. Here Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal known to locals as Drummer Man, dreams of being the next Duke Ellington, spreading his love of music and African culture across the world, even as his marriage crumbles around him and his neighborhood goes up in flames. An arsonist is on the loose. As more buildings burn, the communities are joined together and ripped apart. In Petite Africa, a struggling community fights for their homes, businesses, and culture. In Liberty Hill, others see opportunity and economic growth. As the pace of the suspicious fires pick up, the demolition date moves closer, and plans for gentrification are laid out, the residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives.
“It’s a shame,” says Malachi, after a charged city council meeting, where residents of Petite Africa and Liberty Hill sit on opposing sides. “We do so much for Petite Africa. But still, we fight.”
the talking drum is a beautifully-written debut novel about dreams, community and friendship.
the story reflects the author’s experience as a former television journalist, and i enjoyed getting to know more about the journalism industry through reading about the main character, sydney, who recently starts to write for her local paper. she has so much passion for her job, you can literally feel it coursing through the pages. ♡
apart from her career in journalism, the author based the story on other aspects of her life as well. she grew up in her parents’ clothing store, which her dad had dreamed of opening a long time ago, and remembers the store fondly as a hub for discussions and exchanging ideas, which is similar to the bookstore and cultural centre in the book. in the novel, sydney and her husband, malachi jointly own a bookstore and cultural centre called the talking drum, which mainly focuses on african american literature and is a place for scholarly debate. malachi has always wanted to open a bookstore, and seeing him finally achieve it with the support of his wife is such an incredibly beautiful thing to read about. in the novel, the bookstore becomes a neutral ground for residents of petite africa and liberty hill, who often have conflicting views because of the urban renewal project threatening to destroy petite africa. it’s heartwarming to see people gathered there and having a good time, forgetting about their worries even if it’s just for a short while.
the bookstore’s real-life counterpart, the author’s parents’ clothing store, has a sad ending similar to what petite africa is facing in the book, and in the early 2000s, it closed to pave way for a redevelopment project. everything about the story is realistic and well thought-out, and you can really tell that the subject matter is something close to the author’s heart. (you can read more about the story behind the talking drum here.)
“did you know that the african drum shall talk to you?” he asked jasmine.
she started giggling. “a drum can’t talk.”
“it shall talk,” he stated. “even the smallest drum can talk, like the one you are holding.”the talking drum by lisa braxton
the petite africa community (which is sadly fictional) is also really interesting to read about. it’s far from perfect, but it’s filled with such rich cultures. for many new immigrants from africa and the west indies, petite africa is usually where they first stay before figuring out what their next step will be, so the population there comprises people from many different places. i loved reading about uncle mustapha’s senegalese restaurant – the dishes he serves, especially the lamb stew, sound absolutely delicious, and i cannot stop thinking about them! i have never tried senegalese cuisine, but i really hope to, if given the chance. omar’s passion for traditional african music and the drums is also really inspiring. this may sound cliche, but i really admire how he believes in himself, his dreams, and his craft no matter what, even if those who are closest to him are doubtful of his success. it also melts my heart seeing how determined uncle mustapha is in defending his home and protesting against the demolition of petite africa – the characters in this book are so strong-willed and i am 100% here for it.
in conclusion, the talking drum is an absolutely fantastic novel and i would highly recommend it, especially if you are a fan of chimamanda adichie’s work.
Lisa Braxton is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and was a finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, her M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University, and her B.A. in Mass Media from Hampton University. Her stories have been published in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in the Boston, Massachusetts area.
a little note from chloe:
i urge you to join the fight against racial inequality and demand justice for the murders of george floyd, breonna taylor, ahmaud arbery, david mcatee and christian cooper, among many other innocent black people. below are some useful resources and things you can do to help (please tell me if you know any other useful links / resources and i’ll add them to the list):
a summary of what’s happening and what you can do to help – https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/
read up on black history – https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0Bz011IF2Pu9TUWIxVWxybGJ1Ync
stream this video (ad revenue will be donated, do not skips ads) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCgLa25fDHM&feature=youtu.be
donate to the george floyd gofundme – https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd
donate to the ahmaud arbery gofund me – https://www.gofundme.com/f/i-run-with-maud
donate to the breonna taylor and david mcatee gofundme – https://www.gofundme.com/f/r3w76-raising-money-for-breonna-taylor-and-david-macatee
have you read the talking drum by lisa braxton? what are your thoughts? (please also leave me some recs for books by black authors <3)