NZ Woman's Weekly

Book Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Book Review: The Twelve Tribes of HattieIt’s every mother’s worst nightmare to lose a child, but for Hattie Shepherd it becomes her reality at the tender age of 17.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, a twin on each knee, she holds her babies close as they die from pneumonia – an illness that could have been easily cured. It’s a very different life to the one she had dreamed of just two years earlier.

Brave and passionate, Hattie moves to Philadelphia in 1923 chasing the elusive “American dream”.

Marrying a man who cannot (or will not) do anything to improve their lot – and then losing her beloved babies – sets her on a life path that is both coarse and joyless.

Hattie has a further nine children, but with the loss of her twins still fresh in her memory, she raises them with toughness and grit to harden them to the realities of a harsh world.

Her sons and daughters stumble along their own life paths, each seeking a sense of belonging within a desperate existence.

The title is a biblical reference to the 12 tribes of Israel that were flung to the corners of the earth, who are likened to Hattie’s 11 children and her one grandchild, introduced towards the end of the book.

The novel is unusually structured, as Ayana Mathis weaves together 12 stories about Hattie and her children.

Each chapter introduces one of Hattie’s children and delves deeply into their life, before quickly moving to another in no particular order.

This lack of traditional storytelling leave the book feeling more like a series of short stories linked together by Hattie, rather than a linear narrative.

Though elegantly told, this is a story of extremes: too many children, too little money, violence and loss. Ultimately it’s the story of the human need for love.

Have you read ‘The Twelve Tribes of Hattie’?  Share you views below!

About Marilynn McLachlan

Online editor for the New Zealand Woman's Weekly

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