Gathering of Waters- Bernice L. McFadden


“Dearest, you cannot bury a soul! Souls are light, darkness, and air.”- Bernice L. McFadden, Gathering of Waters

I love it when I read a page of a book and I instantly know I’m going to love it. I’ve been in a sort of fiction reading slump and this book got me right out of it.  Thanks to Didi @ Brown Girl Reading for recommending it to me. It’s one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read all year, hard to put into words how it touched me but it really did.

It all starts in Money, Mississippi, with the death of a hooker, Esther, whose vindictive spirit inhabits a little girl and one of Emmett Till’s murderers, the bad eggs of the book. I read this book in a few hours, thoroughly engrossed in its intelligently woven together story-lines that spanned generations. It mixes together magical realism, history and a love story, so utterly well. There was amazing dialogue and a story-line that pulled at my heartstrings a lot, especially the story of Emmett Till, and his death, that was dramatized in this book in such an, I’m not sure how to put it, honouring way? It makes so much sense to me to memorialize those people who are no longer here to tell their own stories, as a way to always remember them.

Emmett Till’s fictionalized love story was really sweet and a reminder me how an innocent life was lost and would never experience all of the things he should have, all due to racist evil:

“To Tass, Emmett was everywhere and present in all things. He was all over her mind, pressed into the seams between the floorboards, glowing amidst the stars and there in the sweet swirl of sugar, milk and butter in her morning bowl of farina.”

History is something that doesn’t go away, and I like how this book included the historical context , because clearly things don’t occur in a vacuum; everything is connected. History has shaped the present and things don’t just disappear without being dealt with; they permeate to the present. The history of racism is responsible for a lot of present-day woes. The flood after Hurricane Katrina is mentioned in this book, as is the Great Mississippi flood .Water was a motif throughout the book, it seemed like water both reveals the evil but also gets rid of it.

One of the most shocking things in this book for me were Till’s murderers; reading up on how they benefitted financially from the murder reminds me of another person who shall remain unnamed. And the repercussion of their awful act is that it affected the entire country  :

“J.W. and Roy didn’t just snatch the childhood away from Emmett; they stole it from every single black child in Mississippi.”

I’d definitely recommend this book, not only for the wit, great storytelling, but also the beautiful writing.


An excerpt from Audre Lorde’s poem, “Afterimages”

I inherited Jackson, Mississippi.
For my majority it gave me Emmett Till
his 15 years puffed out like bruises
on plump boy-cheeks
his only Mississippi summer
whistling a 21 gun salute to Dixie
as a white girl passed him in the street
and he was baptized my son forever
in the midnight waters of the Pearl.
His broken body is the afterimage of my 21st year
when I walked through a northern summer
my eyes averted
from each corner’s photographies
newspapers protest posters magazines
Police Story, Confidential, True
the avid insistence of detail
pretending insight or information
the length of gash across the dead boy’s loins
his grieving mother’s lamentation
the severed lips, how many burns
his gouged out eyes
sewed shut upon the screaming covers
louder than life
all over
the veiled warning, the secret relish
of a black child’s mutilated body
fingered by street-corner eyes
bruise upon livid bruise
and wherever I looked that summer
I learned to be at home with children’s blood
with savored violence
with pictures of black broken flesh
used, crumpled, and discarded
lying amid the sidewalk refuse
like a raped woman’s face.

13 thoughts on “Gathering of Waters- Bernice L. McFadden

    1. Thank you! It really is, and an easy one to get into. I’d only been in North America for 2 years when Hurricane Katrina hit so I wasn’t aware of how structural racism played a huge role in America; this book definitely supports that view

  1. That poem is raw. I’m always horrified that Till’s mother purposely had an open-casket funeral, but also awed by her bravery. Just CHOOSING to let the world see her son was a defiant act.

    1. It really is raw! It’s quite long too, I just shared an excerpt of it. Till’s mother was definitely really courageous. I was reading up on the trial and apparently she was criticized for not crying enough, what a silly point to bring up.

      1. Incredibly silly. I’ve learned from family whose loved one died of an illness that when someone isn’t crying at the funeral, it’s usually because they were crying for months before the person passed away.

      2. That’s a good point! And Till’s mother was conserving all her energy for justice, I bet she cried plenty away from the court room, what an amazing woman. Sad that anyone would be forced to be that strong and bear so much

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