March 7, 2016
A lyrical novel about love and loss for four generations of African American women living in rural Kentucky.
Crystal Wilkerson is an African American author, raised by her grandparents on a Kentucky farm. Her short stories and poems have been widely published and received various awards. Her new book is part of a series of volumes of Kentucky Voices, published by the University of Kentucky Press.
The Birds of Opulence traces the love and pain between the generations of women, and the husband and son who love them. Tensions around sexuality and the resulting pregnancies shape the women’s stories. The waxing and waning of the friendship of two young girls as they reach adolescence is another major theme. While the characters are clearly African American, tensions between blacks and whites are muted and personal stories of the families and community are highlighted.
Opulence is the name of a small rural community settled by African Americans in the mountains of Kentucky. “The Birds”, referenced in the book’s title, are the women in one of the town’s households, the great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and daughter. The book is structured as a set of vignettes from different years, starting in 1962 with the birth of the daughter. The memories of the character’s fill in details before and between the short segments.
Wilkinson is a fine writer, depicting the characters in her book with a sure hand. This is a book to savor. I recommend it gladly.
Review by Marilyn Dell Brady