Category: Fiction – Literary; 688 pages
Publisher and Publication Date: Random House, 1999
ISBN: 978-0-679-77408-2 (0-679-
An extremely traumatic and public time in the history of Atlanta was the Atlanta child murders from 1979 to 1981. With its first Black mayor and the belief that Atlanta “was to busy to hate,” the news of multiple Black children being murdered in the heart of the city was a ripple in this progressive picture. Law enforcement, politicians, community activists and even families were confused and pointing fingers in their desperation to end this atrocity.
Toni Cade Bambara, former professor at Spelman College and reknowned writer, spent twelve years writing the story of a young Black family whose son goes missing right in the middle of this crisis. Ms. Bambara explores the political, social and emotional turmoil that bombarded the city, bewildered government agencies, devastated neighborhoods and ravaged this already fragile family. Marzala (Zala) Rawls and Nathaniel (Spence) Spencer, a young couple experiencing marital complications as a result of difficult financial situations and PTSD from Vietnam, are already struggling to determine the fate of their family unit when their son, Sundiata (Sonny) becomes missing and adds further confusion to their decision to stay together or to try to conquer this new challenge separately. Sonny’s siblings are equally ambiguous about how to present themselves in the midst of the pain they see their parents experiencing and the need to continue to live and experience life for themselves.
The years Ms. Bambara dedicated to the exploration of this topic are evident in the extent of the material she included. Published posthumously, Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize winning writer and poet, took on the task of editing Ms. Bambara’s work while trying to maintain its original integrity. After having accumulated so much on the factual history of this topic while developing the fictional story, editing Ms. Bambara’s material must have been quite a task for Ms. Morrison. It ultimately results in a very extensive literary work that at times seems to be emotionally weighted and difficult to follow the author’s digressions in the storyline, but overall provides a passionate, compassionate and complicated account of a difficult time in the history of Atlanta.
Though difficult to locate as a new book purchase, one can find several copies available in the Atlanta Fulton Public library system, as well as online and e-book format.