Love, however, is not what most people think it is. Love is not easy. Love changes you. It awakens things within you. It demands your response. It can be frightening if you are not ready to change…When love strikes, you lose part of yourself. (Knowles, 97)
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We all carry generations of knowledge and experience within us. We carry our ancestors’ hopes, dreams, loves, and fears within our very being. Sometimes they manifest in obvious ways, like when you’re told that you seem just like Aunt or Uncle so-and-so. But other times, the past is more like a quiet whisper, pushing us toward the unknown; the past is an instinct whose origin we can’t place, but seems valid all the same.
That is the basis of Carrie Jane Knowles’ The Inevitable Past. Split between the 1890s and 1967, readers follow the lives of Regina and her unnamed grandmother.
In the 1890s, Grandmother is a young woman, full of dreams beyond that of her rural farm life. So, she travels to Chicago to become a typist and a bigger life than she could have imagined. However, her dream soon turns into something just short of a nightmare–Chicago is dangerous, and after a violent encounter with her employer, being forced to a resettlement house, joining the suffragettes, and baking a lot of pies, Grandmother escapes. She hopes to find a new life in Florida, but it is tragically cut short in Macon, Georgia.
Fast forward to 1967 and following her granddaughter Regina. Regina knows nothing of her grandmother, but is haunted by her ghost–in fact, it is her ghost who leads her to Chicago. She spends her days working at a pizzeria, trying to figure out her own dreams and trying to figure out what her grandmother wants of her. After losing her father and a trip to Macon to bury him, Regina recruits her friend Clyde to help her investigate and bear witness to her family story.
Without a doubt, this is a story of sadness, but also of joy and closure. Even though there are still some unanswered questions about her grandmother, she helps bring awareness to the women of the Door of Hope. It was a house which served young women without options, many of whom either lost their babies or their own lives.
In fact, after reading this emotionally moving story, readers learn that the story is dedicated to Knowles’ father, the woman who raised him, and his birthmother, whose own story, it would seem, inspired this one.
“All I had to go on was the one story our father knew and told us about her…I have always wondered what of her is part of me. She is my inevitable past,” writes Knowles.
I cannot recommend this story enough. While it is frustrating to read the pain inflicted upon Grandmother–the sexism and classism she faced–it is a beautiful story of finding family and identity.
It was well written: detailed and engaging, I finished the book in a day, I could not put it down. I think this is a story that most people will enjoy, if not for the content, then for the skillful writing style. I wanted to know what happened next, I wanted Regina to find the truth, even though I wished she could know the whole truth, the ending was fulfilling and did not leave me wanting at all.
That’s all I have for this week, look out for my next post on Dibs: In Search of Self by Virginia Axline.