The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (2013)

by Ayana Mathis

During the Great Migration of the early 20th century, millions of African Americans poured into Northern cities from the South. They were lured by the hope of less discrimination and a better standard of living, but the reality seldom met expectations.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is an impressive debut novel about one migrant and her children and one grandchild. Hattie at 15 flees rural George with her mother after white men killed her father. In Philadelphia. Hattie’s mother soon dies. Hattie marries Arthur and gives birth to twins who die of pneumonia. She never overcomes the loss, even as she has nine more children. Each chapter focuses on one of the offspring, with Hattie the thread.

Life is a struggle. Arthur is charming but shiftless, an unreliable provider and a philanderer. Hattie is the one who keeps the family going, but she holds back affection from her children. Child molestation, alcoholism, gambling, schizophrenia, and other blows afflict their generation. The story would be grim if it weren’t for the strong, courageous character of Hattie, who will be bent but not broken.


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