Saturday, November 15, 2008

Guardian Julius Lester

Guardian by Julius Lester Set in Davis a small southern town in 1946. Its the story of a lynching seen through the eyes of a white teenager.. 14yr old Ansel Anderson works in his father store. Ansel is friends with lil Willie (no last name given because he's a Negro.) The two work and fish together. Though the small town is filled with racial tension the two boys are friends. Everything is going well until Willie's father is accused of raping and killing a white girl. Ansel is with his father, Bert when Big Willie runs to them for help. Bert refuses to speak out against a Davis for a Negro and won't allow Ansel to either. Bert makes Ansel attend the lynching because it will be bad for business if he doesn't. Lester does a great job of putting the reader in that moment. I could see the white people remixing about past lynchings, standing around the tree with the little children on their father's shoulders waiting for Big Willie undeserved sentencing like it was the fourth of July. I was reminded of Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit while lil Willie climbed the tree to cut his father free. After that day Ansel and Willie both got out of Davis and they never spoke again. I must admit I was expecting the two to meet up by chance as adults. The fact that they didn't I believe is a fundamental difference between a white and black author. Ansel's apology would do nothing for Willie. So its only fair that Ansel be forced to live with his non action. Guardian is a short read and Lester does an excellent job of capturing all of the characters. I liked the authors notes as much as I liked the novel itself. Lester shares many things like why he decided to write Guardian. Lester also included Lynching by State and Race records between 1882-1968. 539 black lynchings were reported in Mississippi during that time. When I read that stat the first thing out of my mouth was Mississippi God Damn, no wonder Nina Simone wrote that song.

Time to share, the novel is just over 100 pages and I don't went to give anything away so I will share from the author's notes.

"I wrote a 75 page treatment of the movie I envisioned about the white boy at a lynching. The producer read it, but his mind was set on a movie about a lynching from the perspective of blacks. There was no creative challenge for me in writing that story. I felt like it had been done, and I wasn't interested in writing something that would enable whites to shed crocodile tears for blacks"

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