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2 Burnside Literature- A to Z

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie


The Twelve Tribes of Hattie Cover

ISBN13: 9780385350280
ISBN10: 0385350287
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enrich your discussion of Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

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Mara Lee, February 10, 2013 (view all comments by Mara Lee)
This book is more interconnected short stories than it is a novel, which left me wanting more, but I still highly recommend it. It's the story of a young woman who escapes the Jim Crow South in the 1920s, and her life in Philadelphia, married to a shiftless man, having more children than they can afford. (Nine live to adulthood.)
Hattie and those of her children who get a first-person chapter (with the exception of Franklin) are compelling, believable, broken people. Even the secondary characters, like Lawrence, August and Eudine, are three-dimensional.
The Los Angeles Times reviewer, who was reprinted in my local paper, gave an incredibly harsh review, calling this melodrama, pedestrian prose, etc. He's wrong.
In an interview with Salon, Ayana Mathis said: "Some of your responsibility in writing is to tell the truth about what it means to be a human, to tell the truth about what it means to have a soul. (It) is a kind of miraculous thing. And I don’t mean that in a religious sense, but it is a kind of miraculous thing to be sort of imbued with a reaching and intelligent and broad humanity. You can’t cut corners, you can’t cheat because it is a miraculous thing that we are this way."
She fulfills that responsibility.
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Zulaikha, December 21, 2012 (view all comments by Zulaikha)
Really enjoyed this book! The author is a vivid writer and does a wonderful job transporting readers to Philadelphia, Georgia, Baltimore and Virgina across multiple decades in The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. As an only child I enjoyed reading about all of the Shepherd children and their lives. Several life lessons can be learned from reading about Hattie and her clan. The journey of life was not a crystal staircase for this family, but everyone tried to make the best of their lot which is all anyone of us can do.
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Product Details

Mathis, Ayana
Alfred A. Knopf
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
A-<br><br>&ldquo;A stirring, soulful novel that sp
9.5 x 6.6 x 1.13 in 1.2 lb

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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie Used Hardcover
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Product details 256 pages Random House - English 9780385350280 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is so emotional and deeply felt. I loved the stark concept yet in-depth portrayal of characters. The psychology of being human and realities of life illuminate this wonderful novel.

"Review" by , "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a vibrant and compassionate portrait of a family hardened and scattered by circumstance and yet deeply a family. Its language is elegant in its purity and rigor. The characters are full of life, mingled thing that it is, and dignified by the writer’s judicious tenderness towards them. This first novel is a work of rare maturity."
"Review" by , "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is beautiful and necessary from the very first sentence. The human lives it renders are on every page lowdown and glorious, fallen and redeemed, and all at the same time. They would be too heartbreaking to follow, in fact, were they not observed in such a generous and artful spirit of hope, in a spirit of mercy, in the spirit of love. Ayana Mathis has written a treasure of a novel."
"Review" by , "The opening pages of Ayana's debut took my breath away. I can't remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison."
"Review" by , "Writing with stunning authority, clarity, and courage, debut novelist Mathis pivots forward in time, spotlighting intensely dramatic episodes in the lives of Hattie's nine subsequent children (and one grandchild to make the 'twelve tribes'), galvanizing crises that expose the crushed dreams and anguished legacy of the Great Migration....Mathis writes with blazing insight into the complexities of sexuality, marriage, family relationships, backbone, fraudulence, and racism in a molten novel of lives racked with suffering yet suffused with beauty."
"Review" by , "Remarkable...Mathis weaves this story with confidence, proving herself a gifted and powerful writer."
"Review" by , "Cutting, emotional...pure heartbreak...though Mathis has inherited some of Toni Morrison's poetic intonation, her own prose is appealingly earthbound and plainspoken, and the book's structure is excellent debut."
"Synopsis" by , A debut of extraordinary distinction: through the trials of one unforgettable family, Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration, a story of love and bitterness and the promise of a new America.

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented.  Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave.  She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last—glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life. An emotionally transfixing page-turner, a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity, an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream, Mathis’s first novel heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction. 

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