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.

CONTINUE READING

MORE Books ARTICLES TO READ NEXT ...

'How do you survive when they place a god inside your body?' This is the question at the heart of Akwaeke Emezi's debut novel, 'Freshwater,' out next month from Grove Atlantic. Emezi has established herself as young writer to watc ...

I sent an email to the entire Iowa City Public Library staff in early November. The question was simple: What was the best book you read in 2017? But as any book lover will tell you, that question doesn't have a simple answer. T ...

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.

Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.