- Paperback: 400 pages
- Published: 5/3/16
- IBSN: 9781617754463
- e-IBSN: 9781617754548
- IBSN: 9781617754456
- Genre: Fiction
During World War II, two African American musicians are captured by the Nazis in Paris and imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
WINNER of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work (Fiction)!
A Washington Post Notable Book of 2016
“Simply miraculous . . . As her saga becomes ever more spellbinding, so does the reader’s astonishment at the magic she creates. This is a story about the triumph of the human spirit over bigotry, intolerance and cruelty, and at the center of The Book of Harlan is the restorative force that is music.”
“McFadden packs a powerful punch with tight prose and short chapters that bear witness to key events in early twentieth-century history: both World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Migration. Partly set in the Jim Crow South, the novel succeeds in showing the prevalence of racism all across the country—whether implemented through institutionalized mechanisms or otherwise. Playing with themes of divine justice and the suffering of the righteous, McFadden presents a remarkably crisp portrait of one average man’s extraordinary bravery in the face of pure evil.”
—Booklist, Starred review
“Until fate throws him squarely in the path of evil, Harlan Elliott leads a pretty routine existence as a young black man coming of age in 1920s Jazz Age Harlem. But when Harlan and his close friend are invited to perform in Paris, they get sucked into the maelstrom of horrific world events.”
—Booklist, Editors’ Choice list of Adult Books for Young Readers
“The Book of Harlan is an incredible read. Bernice McFadden . . . has created an amazing novel that speaks to lesser known aspects of the African-American experience and illuminates the human heart and spirit. Her spare prose is rich in details that convey deep emotions and draw the reader in. This fictional narrative of Harlan Elliot’s life is firmly grounded amidst real people and places—prime historical fiction, and the best book I have read this year.”
—Historical Novels Review, Editors’ Choice
“Through this character portrait of Harlan, McFadden has constructed a vivid, compelling narrative that makes historical fiction an accessible, literary window into the African-American past and some of the contemporary dilemmas of the present.”
“McFadden’s thorough research and passion for her subject creates a brilliant novel.”
—Oak Ridger, selected in the Reader’s Guide roundup
“During WWII, two African-American musicians are captured by the Nazis in Paris and imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp, in the latest from the author of Sugar and Loving Donovan.”
—Publishers Weekly, Spring 2016 Announcements
“Sought-after books included Bernice McFadden’s The Book of Harlan, about two African American musicians imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp, so eye-opening that people came up hours before and days after the one-time giveaway begging for copies.”
—Library Journal, ALA Buzzed Books
“McFadden’s impressive achievement offers us a window into the often very difficult lives of African Americans from the Jim Crow era up to the present—and, unexpectedly, in wartime Germany. Highly recommended for showing us that however badly black citizens have historically been treated, black lives matter.”
—Library Journal (XPress Reviews)
“McFadden shows how enduring the human spirit is, carving out pockets of happiness and fulfillment even in the most oppressive corners of a racist, pre-Civil Rights-era United States and fascist Europe . . . This is not, however, a doom-and-gloom book. McFadden also fleshes out Harlem in its golden age as a safe pocket for black America to thrive, and the opulence, creativity and joy she conjures is intoxicating . . . In this work of historical fiction, many more real characters make appearances . . . McFadden weaves their lives together with ancestors from her family to create something wholly elegant and hypnotic, putting a new face on World War II.”
— Eugene Weekly
“McFadden’s writing breaks the heart—and then heals it again. The perspective of a black man in a concentration camp is unique and harrowing and this is a riveting, worthwhile read.”
“Another one of Bernice L. McFadden’s masterpieces . . . McFadden took me on a melodious literary journey through time and place — complex, real, beautifully raw, and necessary . . . McFadden’s prose lingers, giving me courage to stay committed to telling authentic stories that, while revealing of unspeakable truths, serve to unite us all.”
— The Millions, Nicole Dennis-Benn’s A Year in Reading
“I’ve finally discovered a writer I should’ve been reading for years! . . . McFadden has a gift for placing her characters into the vivid history swirling around them, but keeping their emotional experience front and center in the story. There’s a Zora Neale Hurston sensibility to the way she does that.”
—MPR News, Kerri Miller’s Must-Read
“A moving epic that follows the life of one man, Harlan Elliott, The Book of Harlan weaves real-life characters from McFadden’s own life into a fictionalized story about the treatment of black people during the Holocaust.”
—Deep South Magazine
“From Macon, Georgia, to Harlem, and from the City of Lights to Weimar, Germany, Bernice L. McFadden’s latest novel follows Harlan and his friend Lizard, two black musicians who are captured by the Nazis during WWII and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. The Book of Harlan blends family history and world history, fact and fiction, to revisit a haunting chapter from the past.”
—Hello Beautiful, #BlackWomenRead: 17 Books by Black Women You Need In Your Life This Spring
“Hidden history comes alive in this novel about an African American man from Georgia who became a musician in Harlem, played in Paris, lived through the horrors of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and spent his final years in the turmoil of the 1960s.”
—World Wide Work
“Spanning six decades, readers are taken on a journey from the upper class home of an upstanding preacher to the outskirts of the Harlem Renaissance, crossing the ocean to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and winding its way back to black pride and a humble Brooklyn dwelling. Like I said, McFadden does a lot. Fortunately for readers, she does it well.”
—Read in Colour
“McFadden has weaved a tale of undying love and affection that will not only pull at your heartstrings but will also enlighten and inform.”
“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.”
—Monlatable Book Reviews
“Journey into the extraordinary story of a man who was born December 24, 1917—and lived a vivid life . . . Excellent . . . History and music enthusiasts will adore this book.”
—Coffee Breaks and Bookmarks
“This book is exceptional. It is a great read well worth your time.”
Praise for Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden:
“McFadden has created a magical, fantastic novel . . . This is a startling, beautifully written piece of work.”
—Dennis Lehane, author of World Gone By
“McFadden works a kind of miracle—not only do her characters retain their appealing humanity; their story eclipses the bonds of history to offer continuous surprises . . . Beautiful and evocative.”
—Jesmyn Ward, New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
“Read it aloud. Hire a chorus to chant it to you and anyone else interested in hearing about civil rights and uncivil desires.”
—Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered (NPR)
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 eventually becomes a professional musician. When Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are invited to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre—affectionately referred to as “The Harlem of Paris” by black American musicians—Harlan jumps at the opportunity, convincing Lizard to join him.
But after the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald—the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany—irreparably changing 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.
Read an interview with Bernice L. McFadden at It’s All Well + Good Magazine.
BookRiot included The Book of Harlem in Liberty Hardy’s Great Big Guide to Wonderful Books of 2016 from 100+ Indie Presses.
Read an interview with Bernice L. McFadden on Chronic Bibliophilia.
Watch Ron Charles’s “Get in Summer Reading Shape” video, featuring The Book of Harlan, at the Washington Post and below:
Watch KayTheReader’s video review of The Book of Harlan below:
BERNICE L. McFADDEN is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels including Sugar, Loving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. She is a three-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of three awards from the BCALA. McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Book of Harlan, her latest novel, won the 2017 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction.