Saturday, April 17, 2021

"Gone Missing in Harlem"

Karla FC Holloway is James B. Duke Emerita Professor of English, African-American Studies, and Professor of Law at Duke University. As a professor, her classrooms and scholarship focused on literature, law, and bioethics; but in 2017 she turned her full attention to writing fiction. Her debut literary fiction is A Death in Harlem, a mystery set in the moment of the Harlem Renaissance.

Holloway's new book, Gone Missing in Harlem, is a novel about memory, mothering and resilience that bridges the Harlem Renaissance and the Great Depression. Weldon Thomas, NYC's first colored policeman, returns to solve the mystery of a Harlem baby whose disappearance fails to engage the same energies and interest as the contemporaneous Lindbergh kidnapping.

Holloway applied the Page 69 Test to Gone Missing in Harlem and reported the following:
Page 69 has perhaps one of the most uncomplicated presentations of the dilemma and story of Gone Missing in Harlem. It’s the “here’s the facts” page and it surprised me, because much of the book’s story challenges the reader to piece together the mystery, to uncover the pathways towards discovering “who dunnit?” and to decide whether the principal characters are reliable—or not. Breathe. There are no spoilers here. Page 69 does not give away the mystery; but it’s an important (arguably critical) declaration of facts that also matter, and may—in fact—be determinative. Here the mother and daughter, whose relationship has been strained, share an intimacy that is loving and assuring. It’s perhaps the only time the reader might be certain of mother Lilah’s heart. A thoughtful reader might determine that these feelings do not emerge from thin air, but instead reconsider what has suppressed them. Daughter Selma, caught between her own wish to return to the uncomplicated days of a happy and carefree childhood (“I’m your Baby Girl. Me.’) and the circumstance of her unwanted pregnancy (“I’m spoilt”) needs the assurance she gets of mother’s loving support who comforts her daughter, “You got me to stand with while you growing that baby.” It’s on Page 69 that DeLilah accepts she can only save her daughter if she acts from a “strength motivated by love, not fear.”

Although one reading of this book might (perhaps too easily) attach to trauma and disarray, this page makes it plain that my intent strongly turns towards this being a book about resilience, love, and strategy. As a matter of fact, from now on when somebody tells me about the pain and hurt evident in the characters’ challenges, I get to say – but have you seen page 69? It’s the page when DeLilah calls her daughter ‘sweet girl’” and pushes back against Selma’s characterization of her own body as ‘spoilt.” Instead, DeLilah insists ‘You ain’t no kinda fruit. You about to be somebody’s mother.’” And then Lilah determines to make a plan where motherhood (hers and her daughter’s both) is an assurance rather than a casualty. I’m now in love with page 69! Or at least, I have a ready come-back to readers who say but wait…what about when that (unnamed spoiler here) happens? “Ah hah,” I’ll respond in a smug and clever tone. “But have you read Page 69?
Visit Karla FC Holloway's website.

Q&A with Karla FC Holloway.

--Marshal Zeringue