Your House Will Pay
Steph Cha’s “Your House Will Pay” is mostly set in contemporary Los Angeles, but also within the trauma that the city carries from the L.A. riots. Ava Matthews was killed in 1991 by the owner of a Korean market in her neighborhood. As her relations go in and out of jail or deeply into religion or social justice work, the Park family, affiliated with Ava’s shooter, carries on in various stages of awareness of their family’s role in history. After another shocking crime occurs, the families intertwine further.
Rarely has generational trauma been depicted so clearly; in fact, I’d recommend this novel to those who want to understand the concept and how it affects both victims and perpetrators. Cha, a Korean American, writes this book from the perspective of both families with taut prose that’s almost unbearably suspenseful as the book reaches its climax. The novel is loosely based on the death of Latasha Harlins, a name not as known as it should be.
A little-known place, Africville, Nova Scotia (yes, the spelling is different), is fictionalized in Jeffrey Colvin’s “Africaville.” In the early 1800s, a variety of black Canadians and freed slaves settled in this area of Halifax. For many years, the community, while not prosperous, was close-knit and relatively independent until the mid-20th century when neglect from the city at large eventually ended in its razing.
As depicted in this novel, it also became a place that some residents wanted to escape, even as their roots always would be there. The story is told through three generations of the Sebolt family: Kath Ella, who moves away to teach; her son, Omar nee Etienne, who succeeds partially because he also passes for white; and his son, Warner, who investigates his family history and tries to make deep amends. This general saga again investigates race, class, sex and family trauma.
‘The Engineer’s Wife’
Another relatively unknown woman is the basis for Tracey Enerson Woods’ “The Engineer’s Wife.” Emily Warren Roebling, born in 1843, met her husband Washington at a ball during the Civil War, in which he served along with her brother. After marrying, Emily and Wash land in New York, where he becomes chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Building a suspension bridge, one of the longest of its time, was an ambitious and dangerous project. Several men died during the construction and several more were struck down with “caisson disease,” more commonly known as decompression sickness or “the bends.” Great neurological harm came from the shifting air pressure, and Wash Roebling becomes homebound from the affliction.
At first, Emily acts as Wash’s liaison to the worksite, but eventually, due to her keen intellect, she becomes a surrogate engineer, negotiator and leader of the project. An author’s note explains the parts of the novel that were most fictionalized, including a subplot with P.T. Barnum that I personally found a bridge too far (pun intended). Echoes of present-day projects, such as the accidents that occurred when Brazil was preparing for the Olympics, show how impossible it remains for humans to ever perfect safety. This is a romance with a subplot of engineering or an engineering history with a dash of romantic fiction.
Jamie L. Watson is a collection development manager with Baltimore County Public Library.
Participating in Baltimore County Public Library’s 2020 Reading Challenge? March’s theme: Read a book set in another country. “Africaville” fills this bill and also can be found in audiobook. bcpl.info