Author: Minrose Gwin
Publication: Harper Perennial; April 27, 2010
Rating: 4 Bookmarks
Source: Review copy courtesy of Harper Perennial
Nat’s 1-Sentence Synopsis: Set in 1963 deep in the heart of the South, The Queen of Palmyra is the story of a young girl who bears witness to segregation, racial and class divisions, and the human suffering associated with all three.
Written in almost ethereal prose, Minrose Gwin has a masterful command of language and I savored every word of The Queen of Palmyra. The story isn’t an easy one to tell–Gwin shines an unforgiving light on the harsh reality of Southern life in the early 60s–but does so through the eyes young, innocent Florence Forrest.
Florence’s youth and naivete serve to delineate her from the intolerant people around her; she is baffled by the brutality and doesn’t try to justify it. Whereas an adult narrator might try to qualify some of his actions (or inaction), I forgave Florence for her minor transgressions because she didn’t know any better.
This novel isn’t always a pleasant read and deals with difficult subject matter but is so riveting that I found myself re-reading several passages. The characterization is so vivid that I often forgot that this was a work of fiction.
Though I didn’t live through the 1960s–I wasn’t born until 1974–my parents had a Time Life book of collected photographs from the magazine’s history. My sister and I would often flip through the pages while our dad tried to explain photographs like these…
How do you explain to a child that yes, those are officers of the law turning hoses or dogs on people because of the color of their skin?
I would highly recommend The Queen of Palmyra. Reviews of this novel have drawn parallels between it and other best-selling novels that deal with similar themes or that feature young, female narrators. I found it grittier than The Help and The Secret Life of Bees and a shade bleaker than To Kill a Mockingbird.
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