Family by J. California CooperFamily by J. California Cooper


byJ. California Cooper

Paperback | December 1, 1991

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In this wise, beguiling, and beautiful novel set in the era of the Civil War, award-winning playwright and author J. California Cooper paints a haunting portrait of a woman named Always and four generations of her African-American family.
J. California Cooper is the author of several novels, including Some People, Some Places, and six collections of stories. She was honored as Black Playwright of the Year, and her work received the American Book Award, the James Baldwin Writing Award, and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association. She died in 2014.
Title:FamilyFormat:PaperbackDimensions:240 pages, 7.96 × 5.18 × 0.54 inPublished:December 1, 1991Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385411723

ISBN - 13:9780385411721


Bookclub Guide

In this wise, beguiling, and beautiful novel set in the era of the Civil War, award-winning playwright and author J. California Cooper paints a haunting portrait of a woman named Always and four generations of her African-American family.1. Cooper has chosen an unusual narrative voice in Family. How does the use of an unorthodox narrator--"this dead-but-not-gone thing" [p. 37]--contribute to the emotional impact of the story as it unfolds? Does the narrator's personal perspective strengthen or undermine the credibility of the novel? Is it more effective than a diary, a fictionalized memoir, or other common forms of first-person narratives, and if so, why?2. Like her mother before her, Clora commits suicide rather than continuing life as a slave. What gives her daughter, Always, the power to go on despite the dreadful things she experiences? What particular motivations does Always have that set her apart, and what steps does she take to ensure a better future for herself? Because of their light complexions, Always's siblings Peach and Sun are able to enjoy successful lives in the white world. Are the decisions they make--including Sun's failure to secure Always's freedom because she is "not white . . . enough" [p. 125]--justifiable within the context of the time? Clora says, "My blood ran like it was let loose from a stream into the river, into the ocean . . . Ran into the world, hidden, but THERE" [p. 63]. Are the implications of this statement totally positive? What are the costs of keeping one's heritage secret, as Peach does?3. In addition to graphic scenes of violence, how does Cooper convey the profound evils of the institution of slavery? What incidents bring to life the toll of slavery on the black characters' intellectual and emotional lives? Clora declares, "Them white people made hate. . . . That's what they made and that's what they got" [p. 55]. Are any of the white characters in the book exempt from this condemnation? To what extent are the whites victims of the system they created? What do the stories of Sun and Loretta, and of Soon and Doak Jr., reveal about the factors that sustained slavery? What assumptions about the relationship between the races still influence the opinions and beliefs of both African Americans and whites in American society today? 4. What do Cooper's novels share with other books, both fiction and nonfiction, that you have read about the Civil War period? Do her descriptions of the relationships between African Americans and whites before and immediately following the war differ from your previous impressions or beliefs? In what ways does Cooper challenge the traditional depiction of the boundaries between slave and master, black and white? Which characters or relationships do you find particularly surprising? Are the white characters as fully developed as the African Americans are?5. Cooper touches on a wide range of social, economic, and political issues in her writing, including the historical divisions between races and classes; interracial relationships; the significance of complexion in society in general and within the African American community specifically; and the importance of education. What techniques does she use to incorporate these subjects without disrupting the flow of the stories? In what ways can fiction be more effective than nonfiction in revealing the forces that shape our world? 3.In describing Cooper's writing, Alice Walker said,6. In describing Cooper's writing, Alice Walker said, "Her style is deceptively simple and direct and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a foolish person's foolishness cannot be heard." How do these traits mirror classic forms of storytelling, from myths and Biblical parables to the folk stories passed down through oral traditions? Why do you think Cooper may have chosen to use these timeless techniques to tell her stories?

From Our Editors

Much has been written about the institution of slavery. But with Family, Cooper has taken the slave narrative and recreated it as an epic, yet collo quial, poem. "Mesmerizing . . . Cooper weaves four wry, humorous, tragic tales that envelop and transcend time, offering hope and renewal at the same time they chronicle desolation and death".--San Francisco Chronicle. (Anchor)Januar

Editorial Reviews

"Many novels have been written about slavery, but this one is original, stirring, vividly personal and painfully intense." —Los Angeles Times "The sort of book that ought to be read out loud. Both eerie and saddening, [and] filled with tragedies, it is also about survival. In its strong rhythms and colloquial expression, this book is a living woman's monologue." —The New York Times Book Review "What most distinguishes Family . . . is the persistant affirmation of the power of the human spirit to do battle with evil—and to win, even if only for a while." —Chicago Tribune "What a voice. . . . Cooper celebrates family, freedom, perseverance, life, and . . . powerful voices finally heard." —The Atlanta Constitution“With power and grace, Cooper weaves the dialect, styles and myths of the South into a portrait of the hell that was slavery.... Masterful.”—Publishers Weekly