Thrust out of their own Garden of Eden in Africa, African Americans yet constitute a definable community planted in contemporary America. Here the spirit is accessible and suffering can be balanced with communal love. If people are in danger of turning into pillars of salt from too much looking backward, they are also the salt of the earth and have already survived and transformed that past.

When the rains come to Claybourne, one cannot be sure it is not acid rain or nuclear fallout. Clouds are gray tricksters, and the world outside has been dumping its garbage on its devalued members for centuries. Water brings life, however, and Claybourne’s artists will take the wet mud after the storm and its healers will draw on whatever powers make themselves available, because its people still want to live. This balance of hope over fear is essential for human survival.

As she circles back through time and space, as she teaches one to sit still and be centered in one’s own traditions, Toni Cade Bambara reveals the pattern of the circles, the common center/garden from which all people originated. If on the surface the circles conflict and shatter, a wider perspective promises the turning of the wheel, which reestablishes balance. A community centered in its own traditions and balancing the diversity of its members can provide healing for those members who are suffering from the violence of the moment, from the unbalancing influence of fragmented values and traditions.

Bambara’s language empowers the reader by giving equal weight to spiritual and visible realities and allows him or her to wander freely through time and space, because the human mind...

(The entire section is 685 words.)