The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 7 July 2003

The Salt Eaters

by Toni Cade Bambara

Setting her story within a small city in southern Georgia in the late 1970s, Bambara weaves an intricate portrait of a community struggling with issues as close-by as one's own health and as broad as the worldwide use of nuclear power. Velma is a woman involved in all sorts of political issues, but the weight of the world is on her shoulders. She ends up attempting suicide. The book opens as she is being treated by a traditional healer at a progressive clinic in town. It flips from one character to another, each connected to Velma in one way or another, but each strongly individual. The town is practically vibrating with the power of change in the air. The book is gritty and realistic as well as spiritual and almost magical. There is strong imagery of progressive and radical culture of the mid 1970s, and the sense of change toward the end of that decade. The book is excellent, though certain characters are not thoroughly fleshed out. There is much that leaves the reader somewhat at a distance from the individuals while becoming involved in the ornate story itself. Recommended.

(For this book, Bambara was awarded an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 1981.)

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