A Story From the Struggle – The Kindest Lie

In her debut novel, Nancy Johnson explores racial injustice and social inequality.

Nancy Johnson’s eloquently written, introspective, and emotionally resonant debut novel, The Kindest Lie, is a timely commentary on social justice, race relations, and what it means to be Black in today’s America.

Ruth Shaw struggles to accept her past while trying to embrace her present. Growing up poor in a small auto-factory town in Indiana — “a town that killed dreams before they took root” — Ruth’s greatest wish was to overcome poverty and leave her hometown behind.

She’d disappointed her family, and herself, by giving birth at 17. Her grandmother then arranged for her son’s adoption. It was a secret she buried way down deep, and she “protected the lie of her past at all costs,” telling no one, not even her husband.

Now a successful chemical engineer and married to Xavier, a VP at PepsiCo, she has everything. And with Obama the newly elected president, her hopes have wings: “With a brother on his way to the White House, they had state-sanctioned permission to dream.”

Ruth and Xavier’s prosperity allows them to buy a townhome in Bronzeville, “the Black Metropolis,” on Chicago’s South Side, a community rich in African American history. Living both in luxury and within earshot of gunfire, they’ve proven they haven’t totally sold out:

“Somehow, Black people had re-engineered gentrification there — rehabbing houses, stimulating the economy, and turning the place into their own mecca. The neighborhood reminded her of herself, a process of tearing down and building back up, making something out of nothing.”

Ruth remembers what it was like to grow up poor and less-than. “It had taken her years for her to love her own dark skin, almost the color of their shiny new walnut hardwood floors.” Now that she’s made it, she should feel satisfied and accomplished, but her “feet remained stuck in the quicksand of her past. How could she enjoy that kind of ease when she carried something so heavy?” — abandoning motherhood for a Yale education.

Read the rest of my article at Washington Independent Review of Books.

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