The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden

The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFaddenon 2016-04-11
Pages: 400
AmazonNarrator: Robin Miles
During World War II, two African American musicians are captured by the Nazis in Paris and imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp.

The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan’s parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he becomes a musician. Soon, Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are lured across the Atlantic Ocean to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre—affectionately referred to as “The Harlem of Paris” by black American musicians.

When the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald, the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany. The experience irreparably changes the course of Harlan’s life.

Based on exhaustive research and told in McFadden’s mesmeric prose, The Book of Harlan skillfully blends the stories of McFadden’s familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.

Wow. I almost quit this book but I am glad I didn’t. This book is really touched my soul. I have never given much thought to black people in the context of World War II period as most of the narrative revolves around the Jewish Experience. This is the most detailed accounting I’ve personally read about a real black person captured and sent to a concentration camp.

Harlan Elliot grew up in that 1920’s period where music was going through a revolution. Harlan, his best friend Leo “Lizard” Rubenstein “and their bandmates got an opportunity to travel abroad to Paris and perform.

Harlan and Lizard were captured by the Nazi’s when Paris was invaded in 1940, and they were sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Five long years later Harlan made it out but Lizard didn’t survive and Harlan’s life was forever changed.
The latter half of Harlan’s story portrayed a wounded soul. This story was painful yet informative. Disturbing yet rousing. At times, I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t bring myself to halt. The author’s use of imagery and prose leaves the reader feeling raw at times, but also mesmerized with the portrayal of the period’s musicality.

There were other subplots in this story but Harlan’s experience was the centerpiece. It was written with care and I was left astonished by the time I was done. This is Historical Fiction done well. I appreciate the author sharing this story and giving voice to a marginalized segment of the 1920-40’s era. This book wasn’t a flowers and candy read, but it was engaging, informative and inspirational.

*Special Thanks to Perseus/PGW/Legato via by Edelweiss for the e-arc given in exchange for an honest review.

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