Our Review

I read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones in a single sitting. Having been lauded by the likes of both Oprah and Barack Obama, it had been on my radar for a while and so, when on a recent visit to my local bookshop, Gertrude & Alice, I saw that they had a copy in stock, I happily added it to my ever growing pile of books and later devoured it one windy afternoon in Rose Bay.

As a reader who is both female and white, I am no doubt unaware of a great deal of the racism and injustice suffered at the hands of black people, particularly men, in America, and, given my privilege, would hate to try and comment too extensively on a subject that I’ve only ever been privy to from afar. Suffice it to say the problem is a horrific and ongoing one, and it is beautifully explored within the pages of An American Marriage. Powerful, poignant, subtle and sad, An American Marriage is an unputdownable tale that is about both the criminal justice system in America, and the personal, long-term consequences of its widespread oppression.

While being a black American is a prominent pillar of the novel, it is not so much its focus, but more so the stage on which this tale of love and loyalty is set. Rather than using her novel to explore the bias and discrimination the characters face, Jones uses the incarceration of central character Roy as a way in which to look at the consequences of injustice, and how it can bring about the break down of relationships; both familial and romantic. With an entirely non-white cast and chapters narrated by different characters, the book’s pacy plot makes it gripping until the very final page.

The story opens with recently married Celestial and Roy who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and become victims of an ill twist of fate when Roy is accused, charged and sentenced to twelve years for the rape of a woman he didn’t commit. What follows is a prison sentence – a literal one for Roy; a metaphorical one for Celeste – that slowly picks apart at the seams of their marriage, and asks its readers to consider whether there ever comes a point in a marriage or relationship where loyalty can no longer be expected.

I defy anyone to read this thought-provoking tale and remain unaffected by the widespread nature of racial injustice that is both explored within the story’s pages and sadly still so prevalent in today’s society. A haunting read with beautiful prose and rich characterization that fosters empathy in its reader we would all do well to read more books like this.