There is literature that reaches into your soul and shifts something within you, and this book is one of them. This book is going to become a necessary addition on the classics shelf.
Don't Cry for Me by Daniel Black, Hanover Square Press (EPP)
This book reads as letters from an estranged dying father, Jacob, reaching out to his gay son, Isaac, on his death bed. Through these letters we see how Jacob was raised, learned to work, become a “traditional man,” and keep his head down in the deep south. Traumatized by the death of his oldest brother and his mother, Jacob was raised by his grandparents on the land their ancestors bought as soon as they were freed from slavery. Inheriting the trauma his forebears bore, he learned to work hard and raise a family in the same hard manner, making little room for them to sit with or display their emotions—allowing anger to fester and passing down his pain to a child who may have a chance to experience life differently from him.
Watching his own son grow up, he tried to scare and lead the “sissy” out of him, so he would grow into what most of society saw as being a “man.” We see how Jacob, watching his son grow into his true self, and even accidentally seeing his son kiss another boy on the football team, allows distance to grow between them as Isaac creates his own life away from his childhood home. This also created tension within his marriage as Jacob expected Issac’s mother, Rachel, to be submissive and accept his rough parenting, as this is how he always saw other relationships around him work. Rachel, a beautiful, intelligent, and strong Black women and avid reader, did not subscribe to this tradition, which eventually ended their marriage.
This story is achingly sad, yet inspiring, as we see this man trying to grapple with who he is and the history of his family. Trying to accept a son he has always loved yet has never fully understood, you can feel his need to be close to this person he loves so dearly. Jacob writes to Isaac, trying to explain why he is the way he is:
If you get nothing from this letter, understand that I never knew how to love. I dreamed of it, but I never experienced it. What I knew was pain. So that’s what I gave you. I’d never seen a black life free from it, so my job as a father, I assumed, was to prepare your back for the load. I hope that, after you read this, you’ll return my pain to me.
After closing the pages of this book, I sat back and allowed it to sink in. It elicited the same feelings I experienced after finishing great literature like The Color Purple, Black Boy, Native Son, Night, and Persepolis. There is literature that reaches into your soul and shifts something within you, and this book is one of them. This book is going to become a necessary addition on the classics shelf.