What do I even start?
I suppose at the beginning, as most people do. 150 years ago, our great nation was in the midst of a terrible war. The great divide in our nation, pitting brothers against brothers, friends against friends, neighbors against neighbors. While the American Civil War was about so much more than slavery, we all know how important a role it played in the course of events leading up to this dark era of our history. Even after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, slavery wasn't over. Even after the North had won the war, slavery wasn't over. The legal ownership of man may have ended, but the ownership of his rights persisted nearly a century after. For 100 years the African American community struggled. Struggled for work, struggled for food, struggled for home, struggled for God.
Right in the midst of this bleak century, we can find M.G. Miller's incredible, ground-breaking novel, Bayou Jesus. Many may criticize a white man's ability to portray African American life. As a white man, I may not be able to say much myself, but as a scholar who dedicated his (short) academic career to nineteenth century American history and African American history, I believe I know a bit about the topic. A topic that our author, M.G. Miller has portrayed in a beautifully harsh, yet truthful light.
If you are looking for a feel good read that'll make you happy on the inside, stop reading. No seriously, go on. You won't be finding that here. If you're looking for a life changing read that will completely tear you apart piece, by piece and leave you more broken than you've been in ages, this, my friends, is the read for you. And I promise, you'll come out of it a better person.
Let's get started!
The characters in this novel were among the best written I've seen in some time. As the novel is broken into three different parts, we get to learn a bit about different characters in each part. Beginning with part one, The Father, we learn all about Zassy and Jolene, two young girls in small town Louisiana with a lot on their minds. Jolene has never fit in and finds herself a kind of outcast from their community. Harboring a secret that could possibly condemn her from God and community. Zassy, future mother to "Bayou Jesus" is a bright young girl, with a future ahead of her. Zassy falls victim to the whims of life and runs away from home bearing a child. An unwed mother in the early twentieth century was a bad idea, regardless of race. Zassy and Jolene find one another and leave together, to start a life of their own and raise Zassy's son. While their relationship wasn't as clear as I would have hoped, we do get glimpses into their lives as the story continues. With Zassy's child, we get out main character, Frank Christian Porter, "Bayou Jesus".
Frank is an incredibly well-written character. He feels, he grows, he is intelligent, but above all, Frank is spiritual. Depending on what you so choose to believe, Frank may or may not be blessed by the Holy Spirit. Believer or not, no one can deny that Frank Porter is a gifted boy, who would grow into a very talented and charismatic man. The Louisiana bayou wasn't ready for a black man like Frank. To be honest, I'm not sure we're still yet ready for a man like Frank.
The other characters, 'the white ones', as I have labeled them, were all incredible well-rounded folks. They all had their stereotypes and views which I was very much expecting in a novel of this genre, but it wasn't redundant as I was expecting. Each character brought something magical to this novel and Miller wrote each to perfection. While I won't go into any spoilers here, I can assure you that every character in this novel has one hell of a story line. It was incredible how much story Miller could fit into 200 pages!
In terms of plot, I thought this novel was great. While this wasn't a completely new-to-me topic, this was the first time I have read a novel centered around it. Life for the average African American in Louisiana after the turn of the century was a lot like Miller describes! I can only imagine the research he put into writing this novel. It was like taking a step into the pages of history and watching the mistakes of the past unfold. Kudos to you for capturing that moment, Miller! This plot had me all over the place. Scared, confused, motivated, scared again, and then... broken. OH THE FEELS! Let me warn you guys of a few things here. This novel deals with race issues, rape, and strong language; much like life in the early 1900s, please take that into consideration when checking this one out. I've read a few reviews who critiqued the novel for those reasons, but if one wants a truly plausible historical novel, one must be willing to accept all the truths about history. Thankfully for me, Miller did just that. I will say right now that after I finished this novel, I had to sit back and take a moment to reflect. It was that touching people.
Miller does a fantastic job of incorporating multiple themes into this novel, but I'll only speak of one. Spirituality. While I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a 'religious' read by any means, it definitely leave you thinking. The power of religion is a strong motivator for this novel. Whether is be physical manifestation, or verbal/mental/emotional uplifting, this novel is full of spirituality. Every character has to deal with their own fate in terms of spirituality, and I had a great time trying to decipher what was going to happen next! Karma is a great thing and some of these characters have loads of it coming their way!
M.G. Miller did an absolutely fantastic job with the setting of this novel. It was everything I pictured in backwoods bayou Louisiana. One of those settings where the author writes with such description that you could fell the humid air and smell the moss growing on the nearest cypress tree. If you don't hear the cicadas and the croaking of the bullfrogs, you're reading this wrong. End of story. Few authors have been able to capture this feeling in literature for me, and Miller definitely did not disappoint!
I know like it feels like I haven't said much pertaining to the content or plot of Bayou Jesus, but I fear it would be one huge spoiler alert if I did. If anything I have said so far strikes your interest, I highly recommend that you check out this absolutely incredible novel. No surprises here, I am granting Bayou Jesus a well-deserved 5-star review! I cannot wait to read more from this author. You guys will definitely want to add this life-changing read to your TBRs!
Alright readers, that's all I have for you on the topic of Bayou Jesus by Mr. M.G. Miller. Like I said before, this was a bit outside of my normal read, but I am so glad I took the plunge and read this one. I enjoyed every second of it. I've made special notes to remember this one as one of those 'life changing reads' for me. Are you guys interested in checking this one out? Head back to the top and check out the Goodreads and purchase links, if so. Until next time, Happy Reading!