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June 15, 2020

The Talking Drum by Lisa Braxton ~ a Review

by MK French

In 1971 Bellport, Massachusetts, an urban development project is put together to transform the dying downtown area. Many people decide to step away from stressful jobs to try opening shops in this new downtown. Petite Africa is a tightknit and lively neighborhood across the river, and it starts to go up in flames. Residents are at odds over the arsonists, the upcoming demolition date, gentrification of the neighborhoods, and the feeling that politics are reaching too far into their lives.
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The Talking Drum by Lisa Braxton
May 2020; Inanna Publications; 978-1771337410
ebook, print (350 pages) African American Lit
Lisa Braxton received award nominations for her career as a television journalist, short stories, and novels. The Talking Drum is personally inspired, as her parents were caught up in the middle of a gentrification project. Many people already can have an issue with governments seizing land and property by eminent domain, which features in this novel just as it had in Lisa’s life. Petite Africa is a largely immigrant neighborhood with shops and rooming houses as well as apartment buildings. The plan for Bellport was to take over the area to create a $64 million civic center complex, luxury high rise apartments, marina, restaurants, and an off-ramp from the highway, to be completed February 1974.

Lives are very different on either side of the river, and even between the different homes in the neighborhoods. We have quite the cast of characters to get to know in the beginning, so we get to know them and their day to day lives. The fires and relationship concerns are intensely written, and you do have the emotional connection to the people there right along with Sydney. Racism is touched on in real ways, as well as the problems that come with poverty. There are some benefits to gentrification, as a civic center could keep kids off the street and give them positive outlets. At the same time, relocating entire families uproots their way of life and the connections that they made in their community. There’s no easy answer to these concerns, and this book approaches that in a realistic way.

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About the Author

Lisa Braxton
is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and was a finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, her M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University, and her B.A. in Mass Media from Hampton University. Her stories have been published in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in the Boston, Massachusetts area. 

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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