From Lambda Literary:
“From Annette Gordon-Reed’s works on the lives of the Hemingses and Jeffersons in Monticello, Virginia, to the new book by author Chris Tomlinson on his familial connections with African-American running back LaDainian Tomlinson, much has been written recently about America’s tangled multiracial family tree. Penny Mickelbury, one of the founders of black LGBTQ fiction, joins that group with her new novel Belle City…One of the novel’s strongest scenes occurs early on, at a Juneteenth celebration in 1918. Mickelbury captures the strong sense of the connection in the black Carrie’s [Crossing] community well—their joy at being together, and their sense of fragility and insecurity when they are unexpectedly approached by a white interloper. Often, Mickelbury also drives home the importance of the land to the people of these communities, both black and white—which will later play an important role in the surprises found in the wills of both Ruth and Jonas at the novel’s end.”
— Reginald Harris
Read the entire review here.
“I waited a long time to pick this book up because of the heavy subject matter, but once I did, I read it all in 24 hours. It wasn’t heavy handed at all, and reminded me very much of speaking to the elderly about their lives with the matter of fact, first person narration. A must read for those in the south wanting to see a more honest picture of history in the time after emancipation.”
“In a recent New York Magazine interview to promote his film, Top Five, Chris Rock said the only way to deal with the racial situation in America is to confront it head-on—not cover it with politically correct euphemisms that skirt the real issues. “You can’t even be offensive on the way to being offensive,” he said, noting that in some schools a black kid wearing red shoes must be referred to as “the kid in the red shoes.” In 21st-century America, race is the elephant in the room. Novelist Penny Mickelbury was aware of that five years ago when she began writing her new novel, Belle City.
“Readers of crime fiction know and appreciate Mickelbury from her popular detectives—Carol Ann Gibson, Phil Rodriguez, and Gianna Maglione—who have kept readers guessing and turning pages for more than two decades. Belle City is a departure from her who-dun-it fare. It marks Mickelbury’s foray into historical literary fiction. Clearly a labor of love, this meticulously researched and vividly imagined novel looks at the history of a well-known “beautiful city” in the Deep South, which bears strong resemblance to Atlanta, Georgia. Although it begins with the onset of World War I, this is not a story that picks up where Margaret Mitchell’s racially insensitive Gone with the Wind leaves off. It’s a novel that confronts the complexities and tragedies of race head-on. Belle City is an ambitious and provocative novel, presented in three parts that cover eighty-eight years between 1917 and 2005. The story within these pages is told through the eyes of two inextricably linked characters—one white, the other black; one male, the other female—who witness and experience all that history. They act and are acted upon by circumstances and situations that elucidate the present dramas unfolding on 24-hour news cycles buttressed by Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
“Humankind, as T.S. Eliot tells us, cannot bear too much reality, so this novel may prove to be a difficult read for some. Although Belle City is a work of fiction, its pages sizzle with concrete details. For some, its conclusions and understandings will be too hard to swallow. Others may find the construction of the novel a bit challenging. It is told in three parts but also employs three different literary devices. There is a conventional narrative that uses authorial omniscience for some of the story. To cover material seen only by the African-American protagonist Ruth Thatcher, the novel switches to something like NPR’s “Story Corps” setting in which the elderly Ruth is being interviewed by her grand-daughter. A third point of view comes from the white male protagonist, Jonas Thatcher, who tells his version of events through a journal that covers the same time span. This is not a novel for anyone with a two-minute attention span. Anyone willing to spend time with it, however, will catch its rhythm just as one does with William Faulkner and Henry James—and be rewarded for having done so.”
“I read Belle City because I love historical stories, but I got so much more out of this book. Ms. Mickelbury’s novel is essential to our growth and understanding from whence this nation has come. This is an outstanding book about an important aspect of American history that is often ignored. Ms. Mickelbury does an excellent job of providing priceless insights into black Thatchers and white Thatchers who are related by blood relatives. The story starts in the early 1900’s and ends in the year of 2005.
“Belle City is an eye opener. Intellectually, I am aware of America’s history. Many aspects of American history are well known, but not thoroughly digested or examined by the conscious mind. The author presents a powerful prospective on the thoughts and actions of the black characters as they navigate thru life, but also points out aspects of the thoughts and actions of the white characters that cannot be overlooked. The main characters are intricately woven into intriguing tales that personified life in the Deep South from the early1900s until the year 2005.
“Anyone who is interested in our country’s history will love this book. Belle City is a breathtakingly amazing read. If I could give this book more than 5 stars I would! This amazingly told story is compelling. Ms. Mickelbury captures the story with both a clear eye and a warm heart. So glad I read this book! I’m looking forward to reading more from this author!”
“This is such a timely book, as the country rouses itself to protest in the streets against the violence we have witnessed against black youths, most recently Michael Brown and Eric Garner. I am not as familiar as I perhaps should be with the trials that black people undergo on a daily basis in the United States and the extent to which racism still exists. Belle City has educated me and current events have reinforced those lessons. More than just enjoying this author’s riveting saga, I came away with a new appreciation of how far we still have to go and the reasons why we need to get there. Highly recommend!”
“I thoroughly enjoyed Belle City from the first page to the last. Even though the story is fiction, it captures a reality of American history that begs to be explored and discussed more. Belle City beautifully tells a story of the interconnectedness of blacks and whites and the strength and perseverance of African American families and communities. I highly recommend this page turner.”
“…I enjoyed how Mickelbury skillfully threw unexpected curveballs into the storyline… these sections provided… tension and excitement to keep the reader focus[ed] and to showcase the author’s mystery writing skills…The value of the story is the feeling that this could have been every family’s story and will have readers thinking how their families fared during times of historical upheavals and change.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The character development was phenomenal. So many strong black men and women. A true testament to the survival skills of Black folk. A positive story about the black experience. A must read.”
Goodreads & LibraryThing Reviews:
“This is a multigenerational story set over the course of many decades. It is a rich novel with interesting characters. A great read for all.”
“I really liked this book. Very compelling, couldn’t put it down! The characters were well fleshed out, with just enough color and surprise to it. Definitely recommend for a weekend read.”
“Ms. Mickelbury has done an excellent job of making you care about her characters and of keeping your interest throughout the novel. She is such a talented author that I found myself crying during certain parts of it. It was almost as if I were living the moment. This is an outstanding work of historical fiction, and I highly recommend it.”
“I really enjoyed this multi-generational family saga about the Thatchers, the black ex-slaves and the whites. As it begins Jonas, from the white side, Little Si (Silas) and Ruthie, siblings from the black side of the family, are out in the woods hunting. They know there will be hell to pay if a member from either side of the family finds them together. But they don’t understand why as none of them know they are related… As they grow older Jonas falls in love with Ruthie and most likely she with him but we don’t read about her mooning over him as he does her. Most of the events that occur within the story are historical in nature and quite possibly what one would imagine could take place between these two sides of the family and within communities where they live. I appropriately liked & disliked the characters in the novel and I found the book very interesting. I hope it does well for this author. I would like to read more by Mickelbury.”
“This book was a good read and contained interesting historical information about the relationship between race and families in the South. The author covered most of the major historical events of the late 19th and 20th century and the impact of these events on both the white and black families who were the primary characters in the novel.”
“Belle City [is a] fictional account of five generations of two families who are really one and the way their lives are divided by two cities. This book is filled with historical accounts as well as fictitious place[s] and people who are striving for a better life and equal treatment. Many of the African Americans struggle to escape the perils and scars of slavery but instilling in each generation [a] hunger for prosperity in a state and town that make it difficult to live and make a living. I love the way the author provides a descriptive account of the emotional and mental state of each character and how some of those scars are present 30-40 years later. African Americans struggle to be account[ed] by family members who are caucasian but do want it to be know[n] that they share a kinship.”
“I won Belle City as a good reads first Read give away and I was pleasantly surprised to find that once I got past the first chapter the book really kicked into high gear. The story chronicles the lives of 2 families with the same name but on opposite ends of the racial spectrum living in th deep south where prejudice, Jim Crow laws and the KKK are the scourge of prejudice at its worst; that said, the two main characters of the book meet as children and don’t understand why this prejudice exists and the ultimate irony is in the hopes and dreams of Ruthie she tells of a desire for education and getting ahead in life through education while Jonas who is allowed to attend a local school is discouraged from reaching for the same thing by his father who claims education is a waste. This book takes you from world war 1 to the middle of the first decade in the 21st century.
I recommend this book to anyone who loves history but be prepared to feel shame and anger along with joy at the triumph reached along the way. This book is well written and will hold your interest.”