Promise by Minrose Gwin is a novel based on one of the worst tornadoes in the history of the country. On April 5, 1936 an F5 tornado flattened Tupelo, Mississippi killing more than two hundred people – not counting an unknown number of black citizens – one third of Tupelo’s population, who were not included in the official casualty figures but whose homes and lives were equally destroyed by the storm.
The story revolves around two families, one black and one white, whose lives are inextricably bound through a traumatic event. Dovey Grand’homme is an African American washwoman who takes in the laundry of white folks around town and as such she is privy to some of the intimacies of their lives. One of those families, the McNabb’s have a teenage son who rapes and impregnates Dovey’s granddaughter, Dreama, resulting in the birth of a light skinned baby named Promise. The McNabb’s have a new baby at their home as well and when the tornado strikes both Promise and Tommy are lost in the storm. As Dovey Grand’homme and the teenage McNabb daughter, Jo search for their missing family members, Gwin reveals the disparity and injustice caused by the town’s racial divide.
Gwin does a remarkable job of moving the plot forward at a clip while revealing the backstories of the two women as they search for the missing babies. Hopes rise and fall as the sun sets and darkness descends on a town collectively mourning. It’s a stark reminder that grief knows no color, that loss transcends class, but that man’s inhumanity to man even in the midst of a natural disaster remains constant. Minrose Gwin’s strength is in developing characters that we come to care about, in spite of their flaws. Both Jo and Dovey are tenacious and fierce and when the two women find themselves in a biblical tug of war, love and truth win out.
I recommend Promise to fans of Southern historical fiction. This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews.