From the acclaimed author of the national bestseller Ahab's Wife comes an inspiring, brilliantly rendered novel of the awakening conscience of the South and of an entire nation.
Twenty-year-old Stella Silver, an idealistic white college student raised by her genteelaunts, is not prepared for the events of 1963 in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. At first, she keeps a safe distance, but the mounting tragedies send Stella reeling off her measured path. She plunges into the midst of the conflict, setting off a series of changes -- in herself, her relationships, and her future -- as dazzling and powerful as the civil rights movement itself.
This inspiring novel weaves together the lives of blacks and whites, racists and civil rights advocates, and the events of peaceful protest and violent repression to create both an intimate and epic tapestry of American social transformation. Filled with the humanity that is the hallmark of Naslund's fiction, rich in historical detail and evocative in the way the best fiction should be, this novel goes beyond tragedy to redemptive triumph.
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September 01, 2004
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Excerpt from Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund
From many places in the valley that cradled birmingham you could lift up your eyes, in 1963, to see the gigantic cast-iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, atop his stone pedestal. Silhouetted against the pale blue skyline, atop Red Mountain, Vulcan held up a torch in one outstretched, soaring arm. In other mountain ridges surrounding the city, the ore lay hidden, but the city had honored this outcropping of iron ore named Red Mountain, as a reminder of the source of its prosperity (such as it was -- most of the wealth of the steel industry was exported to magnates living in the great cities of the Northeast), by raising Vulcan high above the populace, south of the city.
Fanciful and well-educated children liked to pretend that Vulcan, who looked north, had a romance with the Statue of Liberty, also made of metal. But she was the largest such statue in the world, and he was second to her, and that violated the children's sense of romance, for they understood hierarchy in romance to be as natural as hierarchy among whites and blacks.
Looking down from Vulcan -- his pedestal housed stairs, and around the top of the tower ran an observation platform -- you could see the entire city of Birmingham filling the valley between the last ridges of the Appalachian mountain chain as it stretched from high in the northeast to southwest.
In early May 1963, Stella's freckle-faced boyfriend, a scant half inch taller (but therefore presentable as a boyfriend, if she wore flats), had persuaded her to drive from their college, across the city, avoiding the areas where Negroes were congregating for demonstrations, to Red Mountain. From the observation balcony just below Vulcan's feet, Stella and Darl hoped for a safe overview.
I believe if outsiders would just stay out ... Darl had told her. Let Birmingham solve ... Don't you
But Stella hadn't answered. Instead, she'd said, I'd like to see. I'm afraid to go close.
We can go up on Vulcan, Darl had offered, for he was a man who wanted to accommodate women; a man who loved his mother. Stella had met her. He'd brought along his bird-watching binoculars. Darl could recognize birds by their songs alone; he could imitate each sound; he kept a life list of all the birds he had ever seen. His actual name was Darling, his mother's maiden name, and though Stella dared not call him Darling, she longed to do so.