Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review of Tim Stafford's "Birmingham"

First things first, I blurbed on this book. You can see what I said:
“A reporter’s eye for detail brings this fictional tale of the civil rights movement to life. The flawed but brave protagonists draw us in, and make us wonder how we would have fared in the struggle against the evils of segregation.”

I’m in a writers’ group with Tim, and I had the honor of seeing this novel grow. It’s told from two perspectives: a white seminary student anxious to fight injustice and a young African American woman born into the struggle.

Writing from each of these viewpoints presents unique challenges: one is that too many stories of the civil rights movement have focused on the brave and selfless Caucasian heroes that come in and save the helpless former slaves (I’m looking at you Mississippi Burning.) But young Chris is certainly not the Great White Hope in the book. He gets in the way and makes mistakes and does not have an opportunity to put Bull Connor in his place. But he does allow for the modern reader to get a better idea of how whites at the time struggled to do what was right puzzling through the various demands of law, society, faith and conscience.

I was also concerned about what a mature white man would do with the voice of young Dorcas. Tim brings this young woman to life, not as idealized saint, but as a passionate, impulsive, angry young woman who wins the reader’s admiration.
Getting to know these two characters is worth making an investment in this book, but other lively personalities, humor, action and a bit of history make Birmingham essential reading as the 50th anniversary of the events described in the book arrives.

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