Bambara, Toni Cade (Vol. 19)
[The fifteen stories in Gorilla, My Love] are among the best portraits of black life to have appeared in some time. Written in a breezy, engaging style that owes a good deal to street dialect, they are concerned primarily with children and manage to incorporate the virtues of such stories—zest and charm—yet avoid most of the sentimental pratfalls. Moreover, they have resonance: their anger is a knife slicing through the entertainment, and it continues to cut when the stories are over. Bambara's subjects … are filled with inherent pathos; but Bambara writes with pride, wit, and a generous portion of human warmth. (pp. 97-8)
"Shorter Reviews: 'Gorilla, My Love'," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1972 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 55, No. 47, December, 1972, pp. 97-8.
(The entire section is 128 words.)
Bell Gale Chevigny
[In "Gorilla, My Love" Toni Cade Bambara] takes time for a wide range of black relationships at home and in the neighborhood and for the discovery of complexity in black unity. It is interesting that none of these … [stories] center on relations between black men and women (though in two, women deal with separation from their lovers). The characters of whom she writes most often and with the greatest tenderness and subtle invention are adolescents and old people, mostly female. It is as if before treating the fraught relations between men and women she must draw in her writing on the knowledge of those for whom sexual conflict is past and those for whom sexual differentiation has not yet become rigid.
I find much of the writing here wonderful and well worth anyone's attention. The stories are often sketchy as to plot, but always lavish in their strokes—there are elaborate illustrations, soaring asides, aggressive sub-plots. They are never didactic, but they abound in far-out common sense, exotic home truths. The black life she draws on—mostly in New York City but sometimes in the rural South—whether bizarre, poignant, or hilarious, is so vividly particularized you don't feel the wisdom or bite till later. (p. 39)
In the stories I like best of this group, the real world makes some claims that threaten the balance. In "The Lesson," the young narrator, her resources stripped, flees from a bitter demonstration of...
(The entire section is 560 words.)
In "The Sea Birds Are Still Alive: Collected Stories" Toni Cade Bambara … tries to avoid narcissistic stereotypes. Reading her stories is like coming into a crowded, hot, smoky room where a dozen different voices (most of them speaking Black English) are telling a dozen disparate tales. Some of the stories fail just because there is too much verbal energy, too much restless pursuit of random anecdote. But the fine title story (set in Vietnam), on the other hand, makes its meaning felt just by the diversity of sights and sounds and inferred lives. "Witchbird" is another story that surmounts the temptations—because, I think, Miss Bambara has here solved some of her troubles with the monologue form, and because her narrator … is so full of life she almost bursts from the page. Shrewd, tough, cat-smart and, at the same time, both sentimental and humane, she's an original.
Robie Macauley, "'The Sea Birds are Still Alive'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 27, 1977, p. 7.
(The entire section is 173 words.)
Miss Bambara writes with a marvelous vitality; her style, which draws its bite and verve from everyday black speech, comes close to poetry. But if you want to give [The Sea Birds Are Still Alive] the attention it deserves, you ought to wait a week between stories. Taken as a group, they seem too dense and clamorous. Taken one by one, they positively sing.
Anne Tyler, "Farewell to the Story as Imperiled Species," in The National Observer (reprinted by permission of The National Observer; © Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1977; all rights reserved), May 9, 1977, p. 23.∗
(The entire section is 94 words.)
[In The Salt Eaters] a black woman is sitting on a stool in a hospital, watching numbly as a fabled healer named Minnie Ransom attempts to bring her out of her depression, or her mental collapse, or perhaps it's simply overwhelming tiredness—whatever led her to slit her own wrists and try to gas herself. As Minnie Ransom hums and flounces her dress and drapes her shawl, as Velma Henry sits frozen in her white gown, scenes from the past and present swim by in no particular order. One scene fades into another, observed by characters who seem chosen almost at random: a lonely bus driver, an ex-pimp, a raging feminist, an intellectual waiter who has no difficulty linking thermodynamics with voodoo and billiards. The shifts are so smooth, sometimes it takes us a moment to realize they occurred. There are flashes of political meetings, cozy conversations in sidewalk cafés, grueling protest marches and animated bouts of "Disposal" (a very funny, surrealistic board game in which players vie to get rid of contaminated nuclear waste).
In short, this book is a long, rich dream pivoting on a hospital stool, widening from the center…. (p. 1)
Dreams are not easy to follow, and The Salt Eaters is not an easy book to read. Too many people swarm by too quickly. Too much is described elliptically, as if cutting through to the heart of the matter might be considered crude, lacking in gracefulness, not sufficiently...
(The entire section is 569 words.)
Bambara backs readers [of The Salt Eaters] into the eye of a hurricane and then releases them, along with her troubled protagonist, as the contaminated clouds burst. The ominous downpour is the plot's core event and metaphor; the book is heavy on atmosphere and thin on action. But that bias seems appropriate to the characters' pillar-of-salt paralysis in which memory of past violence numbs the present and urges fear of the future.
Details are microcosmic: The souring of a marriage is reflected in a table setting, and feminism of the Sixties is wryly summed up in the scratchiness of rally flyers doubling as sanitary napkins. Words take on a driving beat, and push home with humor and the message: "Doan letcha mouf gitcha in what ya backbone caint stand."
This first novel has spine. Its creator displays tragicomic skills as versatile and subtle as the difference between a squat and an elegant demi-plié. (p. 41)
Laura Geringer, "Books in Brief: 'The Salt Eaters'," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1980 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 7, No. 8, April 12, 1980, pp. 40-1.
(The entire section is 180 words.)
The stories [in "Gorilla, My Love" and "The Sea Birds Are Still Alive"], describing the lives of black people in the North and the South, could be more exactly typed as vignettes and significant anecdotes, although a few of them are fairly long. Some of them are shapelier than others, steadier in tone, more compact; all are notable for their purposefulness, a more or less explicit inspirational angle, and a distinctive motion of the prose, which swings from colloquial narrative to precarious metaphorical heights and over to street talk, at which Bambara is unbeatable….
Although there are traces in Bambara's work of sexual conflict, traditional and contemporary brands, and although the women are naturally more prominent and more deeply described, there isn't a shortage of admirable men…. (p. 169)
Certain topics and rhetorical turns place Bambara chronologically and politically. A key story in this respect is "Broken Field Running," with its African names, community radio station, and Job Corps centers; with references to Huey Newton, the Third World, napalm, and Vietnamese children…. Interesting in this way, "Broken Field Running" is also one of Bambara's best stories, despite its rather bald politics. A man and a woman, teachers of a Socratic sort of a neighborhood alternative school, conduct a group of children home through city streets in a snowstorm…. The point of view is the woman's, the wind and snow...
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In her highly acclaimed fiction …, [Toni Cade Bambara] emphasizes the necessity for black people to maintain their best traditions, to remain healthy and whole as they struggle for political power. "The Salt Eaters," her first novel, eloquently summarizes and extends the abiding concerns of her previous work.
The central action of the novel is the healing of Velma Henry, an attempted suicide….
Through flashbacks, stream-of-consciousness, a complex interweaving of plot, subplot and digression, the substance of Velma's life and the lives of the black people of Claybourne are gradually revealed. The reader must synthesize the mosaic, piece together fragmentary bits of character, scene, story-line as they flash in and out of the narrative. With the force and freedom of great traditional storytellers—the "boldness and design" that one character asserts is the essence of black creativity—the narrator shuttles backward and forward in time, plunges the reader into the middle of conversations, thoughts, dreams. Characters at the periphery of one scene suddenly take center stage in others. Part of the pleasure of the novel derives from these dislocations and affronts (are we really supposed to believe the conversations between people and spirits?), the sudden juxtaposition of the real and unreal, the imaginary and the actual…. "The Salt Eaters" questions and finally erodes the basis upon which such distinctions...
(The entire section is 606 words.)