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Review: Debut novel 'A Kind of Freedom' focuses on family, racism

‘A Kind of Freedom,’ the debut novel from lawyer and author Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, is a beautiful story of one New Orleans family’s struggle to survive — and thrive — against years of institutionalized racism. Told in sections that alternate between three generations of one family, Sexton’s novel reveals a cycle of poverty and incarceration so vicious even the brightest and most ambitious fall victim. And yet out of that mire Sexton’s characters emerge with the bold, relentless optimism of a New Orleans jazz band, determined to one day rise and secure a kind of freedom.

At the center of the novel is Evelyn, who we meet in 1944 as a young woman in love with a poor man from the Twelfth Ward. Evelyn’s father, a successful doctor “born of freed Senegalese people who never mixed,” disapproves of the match and fears the marriage would take Evelyn away from their upper-class life in the Seventh Ward.

“I won’t have her fighting her way through this life. It’s already hard enough. I won’t make it harder.”

The novel then shifts to Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, in 1986, whose marriage to a brilliant pharmacist falls apart when he becomes addicted to crack. Their adult son, T.C., takes up the novel’s third story line: a moving tale of redemption and power as he begins life anew in a post-Katrina New Orleans.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Edward P. Jones is a clear influence of Sexton’s, as demonstrated both in the structure of her narratives and the beautiful rhythm of her paragraphs. Like Jones, Sexton evokes a strong sense of place and firmly roots readers in a specific city, allowing the language, heat and character of New Orleans to seep into each narrative.

The result is a powerful novel showcasing the parallel struggles of Evelyn’s family and the city of New Orleans, as both are filled with promise, bias and determination.

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