'The opening pages of Ayana's debut took my breath away. I can't remember when I read anything that moved me quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.' Oprah Winfrey
Fifteen years old and blazing with the hope of a better life, Hattie Shepherd fled the horror of the American South on a dawn train bound for Philadelphia.
Hattie’s is a tale of strength, of resilience and heartbreak that spans six decades. Her American dream is shattered time and again: a husband who lies and cheats and nine children raised in a cramped little house that was only ever supposed to be temporary.
She keeps the children alive with sheer will and not an ounce of the affection they crave. She knows they don’t think her a kind woman — but how could they understand that all the love she had was used up in feeding them and clothing them.
How do you prepare your children for a world you know is cruel?
The lives of this unforgettable family form a searing portrait of twentieth century America. From the revivalist tents of Alabama to Vietnam, to the black middle-class enclave in the heart of the city, to a filthy bar in the ghetto, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is an extraordinary, distinctive novel about the guilt, sacrifice, responsibility and heartbreak that are an intrinsic part of ferocious love.
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The opening pages of Ayana’s debut took my breath away. I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison. -
Mathis traces the fates of Hattie’s 12 children and grandchildren over the course of the 20th century, simultaneously capturing the voices and daily minutiae of every one of her characters. The understated assurance with which the 39-year-old pulls off this trick – a complex and engrossing work that has huge commercial hit written all over it – is remarkable. - Sunday Times
This fresh, powerful first novel turns the lives of Hattie’s children into an epic of America in the 20th century. Tough, truthful, wonderfully controlled writing. - The Times
Ms. Mathis has a gift for imbuing her characters’ stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison’s writing, and her sense of time and place and family will remind some of Louise Erdrich, but her elastic voice is thoroughly her own — both lyrical and unsparing, meditative and visceral, and capable of giving the reader nearly complete access to her characters’ minds and hearts. - New York Times
‘A vibrant and compassionate portrait of a family hardened and scattered by circumstance and yet deeply a family. Its language is elegant in its purity and rigor. The characters are full of life, mingled thing that it is, and dignified by the writer’s judicious tenderness towards them. This first novel is a work of rare maturity.' - Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of GILEAD and Orange Prize-winner of HOME
‘Beautiful and necessary from the very first sentence. The human lives it renders are on every page lowdown and glorious, fallen and redeemed, and all at the same time. They would be too heartbreaking to follow, in fact, were they not observed in such a generous and artful spirit of hope, in a spirit of mercy, in the spirit of love. A treasure of a novel.’ - Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of TINKERS
This is a bold debut that sets out to address the huge themes of motherhood and US history through the tale of one dysfunctional family, and succeeds. - Financial Times
Without Oprah’s intervention, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie might have been one of the greatest novels of 2013. But now – just in time – it’s certainly one of the best of 2012. - Washington Post
This rich debut couldn’t be further from the straightforward 20th-century American family saga it appears at first to be . . . Spanning many decades, it is an intricate portrait not only of complex family ties, but also of one quietly strong woman who heads this complicated tribe of siblings, children and friends. With each chapter narrated by one of Hattie’s children, the power of Brooklyn author Ayana Mathis’ novel is in its ability to create distinctive yet precise characters brimming with recognisable humanity. - Psychologies Magazine
The opening chapter is a cracker, exquisitely written, full of vividly evoked tension and searing emotion. It is painful – relentlessly so – with a devastating coup de grace. - Scotland on Sunday
An unexpectedly uplifting reminder of the resilience of the human spirit - Good Housekeeping
As unremittingly bleak as her characters’ lives are, Mathis has not produced a grim novel: it is as much about our need for joy as it is about our struggles against bitterness. Written with elegance and remarkable poise, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is rather like its heroine – a bit withholding at times, but memorable and with a hint of something formidable glinting under the surface. - Guardian
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a moving story of a broken American dream. - Stylist
This is an ambitious debut, already praised by Pulitzer and Orange Prize winner Marilynne Robinson and chat show host Oprah Winfrey. It is well-deserved, for this is an epic tale of struggle, oppression, love and loss, told bravely. - Scottish Daily Mail
Mathis beautifully unfolds the heartbreaking scene of a mother watching her babies’ lives ebb away . . . Chosen for the influential Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, this ambitious debut has attracted a lot of attention. - Irish Independent
Builds into a tense, real, multi-layered narrative of incredible emotional power. Much better than boring old Alice Walker. - Metro