Asenath and the Origin of Nappy Hair: Being a Collection of Tales Gathered and Extracted from the Epic Stanzas of Asenath and Our Song of Songs By Carolivia Herron


A Stunning Work of Breathtaking Genius

This is a work to be savored. It can't be rushed through. It defies skimming. It demands attention and reflection and I mean that in the most positive way. I've never read a book as rich in classical and contemporary allusion that remains somehow seamless. These allusions are not showy or pedantic. They are the indispensible threads of a very particular cloth. This is one of the ways the sheer genius of the book takes one's breath away. There's not a sentence that's out of place or uninteresting. Some of its characters are ideas or songs of ideas and they are harmonious. Other characters are more like phenomena. And yet I became attached to its principal subject, a child who is a genius few comprehend. An aspect of the novel takes place inside that mind which is a joy to encounter. Along the way, the reader becomes enchanted by her mission, given to her by celestial beings in the days before she takes on flesh, really given to her as a kind of bribe to make her desire to take on flesh, that is, a quest to find the book heaven has not read. As much as this child is an icon of intellect, she is also an icon of misperceived humanity.The reader wants to comfort her, encourage her, and slap down her tormentors.

Eventually, that child grows up and becomes a graduate student. A misunderstood, underappreciated one, of course. The remainder of the novel is a kind of intellectual journey that allows the student to find and develop her thesis topic. But this is not the kind of novel that operates solely on the platform of plot. There's a mystical, poetic element. And quite a lot about race, slavery, freedom which sounds, from an African American author, like it must be of African American race, slavery, and freedom but it's not limited to that. It's also a Jewish novel and a universal one. I don't think the word Joycean is out of place here. Suffice it to say that Herron's mystical, musical, epic, poetic (oh! the poetry!), funny (yes! funny!), dramatic, entertaining, thought-provoking style is completely and utterly unique.

While I was reading this book, and I read it slowly because there is no point in gobbling up something so rich, it must be savored, I decided it was a kind of tragedy that Herron is not writing in a different age. The Joycean era, perhaps. Any era when literature as literature was more deeply appreciated. When there was an intellectual elite devoted to the discovery and enjoyment of demanding, stunning works. In that world, Herron would be a super star. In this . . .

I should say in closing that I've known Carolivia Herron for more than 20 years, although we'd lost touch with each other for many of them and only recently reconnected thru, of all things, Facebook. The first thing you notice about Carolivia when you meet her is that she's a remarkable presence and mind. Her light could blind. Years ago, I read her novel Thereafter Johnnie and appreciated it. It was a straightforward work compared to this one and on the difficult subject of incest. Well done. I never read her Nappy Hair, celebrated for both its wisdom and controversy. But it's this novel where I find the mind I knew years ago, the mind in full flower today, the remarkable one of blinding light. I look forward to Volume II which will center upon a different, more ancient incarnation of the protagonist of Volume I. She is certain to be a completely unique experience. 378

Volume 1 of the 2 volume novel, Asenath and Our Song of Songs, shares scenes from the life of Shirah Shulamit Ojero, an African American Jewish girl and woman, growing up in Washington, DC. Shirah reexamines and affirms her Judaic ancestry, becomes a graduate student studying epic poetry at the University of Pen Forest, and in the process of writing her doctoral dissertation discovers that hair as nappy as hers has existed only once before - on the head of Ancient Egyptian Asenath. The entertwined stories of Shirah and Asenath becomes a quest for a book unknown in heaven, and leads them through deserts, mountains, and many academic halls. The characters seek the book not only at the University of Pen Forest in Philadelphia, but also at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, West Cambridge University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at the Library of Sa�s in Egypt. Asenath's story is mentioned briefly in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament, as well as in contemporary texts such as Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann. She is the daughter of the Egyptian priest, Poti-pherah, and eventually becomes the wife of Joseph in Egypt. Volume 2 of the novel focuses on the life of Asenath and her connection with Joseph, Shirah, the Pharaoh, also known as the Directing Angel of the Center for Literary and Cultural Studies, and the Pharaoh's Companion, Nefertha of BlackWomanSong, also known as BeeJay Skerett, the Angel who Knows the Difference. Asenath and the Origin of Nappy Hair: Being a Collection of Tales Gathered and Extracted from the Epic Stanzas of Asenath and Our Song of Songs

characters Asenath and the Origin of Nappy Hair: Being a Collection of Tales Gathered and Extracted from the Epic Stanzas of Asenath and Our Song of Songs