And All Our Wounds Forgiven

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

One of the first discoveries that Andrea makes about her husband John Calvin Marshall, a fictional transcription of King, is that he picks his nose. The civil rights leader is nevertheless a Great Man, not least to blonde-haired, blue-eyed Lisa Adams, who receives frequent demonstrations of his manhood. Marshall becomes head of the Southern Committee for Racial Justice and, murdered in Atlanta, a martyr to the struggle for social justice.

Reticent about Marshall’s childhood and adolescence, AND ALL OUR WOUNDS FORGIVEN begins its record in 1956, when, freshly degreed by Harvard, he accepts an offer to teach at Spelman College. It gains momentum in 1961, “when History attached its strings to his arms and legs.” Marshall’s decision to return to the segregated South causes tension with Andrea, a Radcliffe black who marries an intellectual but is forced to become an activist’s wife. Yet Andrea Williams Marshall is known to the world as the hero’s valiant widow, a part she plays for twenty-six years, twelve longer than her imperfect marriage.

Though already long departed, Marshall narrates from beyond the grave, one of several voices that brood about his life and legacy. “i do not know where the story begins,” is how Marshall begins, conceding: “i am not sure i know even what the story is as neither my life nor death constitutes the story.” The story that Lester assembles is a tentative collective memoir. In addition to Marshall, witnesses include: Andrea, who, at fifty-one, lies comatose but not uncommunicative, dying of stroke; Lisa, the wealthy beauty who spent seven years as Cal’s public aid and private lover; and Bobby Card, a volunteer recruited out of Fisk to direct operations in Shiloh, Mississippi. Included, too, are cameo comments by J. Edgar Hoover, Malcolm X, and Lyndon Johnson.

AND ALL OUR WOUNDS FORGIVEN restores the problematic humanity to a man and his era. It offers richly textured, overlapping fragments of a hero made of flesh, blood, soul, and semen.