American Tapestry

Posted on July 5, 2013 by


Book review of American Tapestry, by Rachel L. Swarns

The writing in this book wasn’t very good and the editing was even worse (Why did it constantly jump around in time? Added nothing to the book.), and it was so simply written that I got through it in two days, despite it being 304 pages long, but it had some interesting historical tidbits that caused me to pause.

I hadn’t known about the flu epidemic that hit North Carolina or the segregationist habits of the “free states”. I was also surprised — but not really, KWIM? — to read that it was Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois (two prominent black intellectuals of mixed ancestry) that campaigned for an end to the various sub-categories of race that were used to describe black people (black, mulatto, octoroon, etc.). Apparently, they thought the practice “threatened racial solidarity”. Which I agree with, which is why I reject them.

But that doesn’t stop me from being fascinating by the racial hodgepodge that makes up the First Lady’s ancestral tree. A heritage which goes a long way in explaining why Mrs. Obama looks like a darker, permanently-surprised Sigourney Weaver.

The most interesting thing about it was how completely ordinary they all were. The author does a good job of turning those very ordinary people into extraordinary lives, by placing them in the middle of riots, epidemics, wars, and migrations.

I know that I’m quite late in reading this book, but better late than never. It was worth the bother and I feel smarter after reading it, which is more than I can say for most books.