Cover image for
Family : a novel
Cooper, J. California.
Personal Author:
First Anchor Books edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Anchor Books, 1992, c1991.
Physical Description:
231 pages ; 21 cm
Reading Level:
830 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.7 6.0 6916.
Lexile Number:
830 Lexile.
Pub Date:
1992, c1991.


Home Location
Material Type
Shelf Number
Central - Houston Public Library Adult Paperback Classic Uncataloged paperback PAPERBACK CLASSIC
Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Ideson Building Adult Texas and Local History Collection Reference material 813 C777

On Order



In this wise, beguiling, and beautiful novel set in the era of the Civil War, award-winning playwright and author J. California Cooper paints a haunting portrait of a woman named Always and four generations of her African-American family.

Author Notes

J. California Cooper was born in Berkeley, California in 1932. She was an award-winning playwright, novelist, and short story writer. She wrote 17 plays and received a 1978 Black Playwright Award for Strangers. She wrote several short story collections including A Piece of Mine, Wild Stars Seeking Midnight Suns, and The Future Has a Past. Homemade Love received the 1989 American Book Award and Funny Valentine was made into a 1999 TV movie. Her novels included Family, The Wake of the Wind, Life Is Short but Wide, and Some People, Some Other Place. She received the James Baldwin Award and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association in 1988. She died on September 20, 2014 at the age of 82.

(Bowker Author Biography) J. California Cooper is the author of five collections of short stories, including Homemade Love, winner of the 1989 American Book Award, and the novels The Wake of the Wind, Family, and In Search of Satisfaction. She lives in northern California.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

It was nearly impossible for blacks to maintain any concept of family in the antebellum South, particularly when the females were used as if they were brood mares and their offspring sold off to augment profits or defuse kindred feelings between slaves. Vehemently, Cooper makes this point in her story about the family of Clora--a woman who commits suicide (as her mother did) rather than see any more of her children cruelly misused. However, Clora becomes a spirit. The phenomenon is simply explained as: "God didn't say nothin' to me. . . . The devil didn't say nothin' either. . . . I was just left." Cooper's ghostly narrator has the power to follow (but not alter) the paths of her descendants for nearly 100 years, as they intermarry and influence the course of history. A novel filled with pointed lessons that need to be taught over and over again. ~--Denise Perry Donavin

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this beautifuly textured first novel by the author of the acclaimed short story collection Homemade Love , the history of one slave family becomes symbolic for all slaves and slaveholders. Clora, the granddaughter of a slave and a slaveholder, refuses to accept her life as chattel and, as did her mother, escapes slavery by committing suicide. She had tried to poison her children first, but they survive and Clora's spirit narrates their story, beginning with her daughter Always. Although her siblings pass for white to escape, dark Always endures the misery of slavery including frequent rape by the slave owner. Stealing his gold to save for anticipated freedom, she risks her life to learn how to read. When she and his wife give birth to sons at the same time, Always switches the babies, of like complexion. Her son grows up in freedom, while she raises the other as a slave--a masterful metaphor for the psychological bondage that slavery imposed on slave masters. Both young men survive the Civil War, and Always lives to see them prosper after emancipation. However, as Clora narrates, racism replaces slavery and humankind continues to suffer from its divisions. With power and grace, Cooper weaves the dialect, style and myths of the South into a portrait of the hell that was slavery. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternate; author tour. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Cooper adopts an unorthodox perspective in this tale of one family's suffering under slavery. Typical of pre-Civil War times, the female slaves in this novel were sexually abused by the master of the land, often bearing him children who were later taken away and sold. The women went through life not knowing what had become of their offspring or experiencing a loving male/female relationship. Such is the lot of this book's protagonist. Early in Cooper's story, the young mother attempts to poison herself and her children. She dies but her children survive. The novel then describes in painful detail the poor soul's oversight of her children from beyond the grave. Although most of them land on their feet eventually, until that point their interrelated stories are wrenching. Cooper writes in dialect but occasionally slips into standard English, which can be disconcerting. Nevertheless, recommended for public libraries.-- Kimberly G. Allen, National Assn. of Home Builders Lib., Washington, D.C. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-- This affecting historical novel, set in the pre-Civil War South, is narrated by a slave named Clora. She describes the life she and her mother share, her mother's suicide, her own unsuccessful attempt to kill her children, and the successful taking of her own life to escape mistreatment by her masters. After her death, Clora follows her children's lives in spirit form (interestingly depicted on the cover). The treatment of the slaves is heart-wrenching. Although vivid details make readers identify with the characters and feel their pain, Cooper's writing skill will draw them into the story, despite knowing in advance that it will hurt. While the generous use of white space on each page gives the book a juvenile appearance, the format, emotional tone, and use of dialect make it more appropriate for more mature YAs. An excellent book about slave life in the pre- and post- Civil War era.--Jacqueline J. Craig, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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