Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

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Gwendolyn Brooks’s name is associated with many impressive firsts: the first African American woman to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize; the first African American woman to become Poet Laureate of the US; and the first African American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In many regards, it is fair to say that her literary work shattered many ceilings.

Maud Martha, Brooks’s only novel, tells the coming of age story of a dark-skinned heroine in Chicago, from the Great Depression until the aftermath of WWII. Its absolute concision and infinite grace bring to mind Une Vie and Un coeur simple,
Maupassant’s and Flaubert’s masterpieces. This novel in 34 vignets unfolds effortlessly, with a naturalness and singularity that will astonish you.

Born in a middle class family of Bronzeville (Chicago, Illinois), Maud Martha is made conscious at a very early age of the discrimination that will befall her because of her color. The nice attention, the flowers, the car drive, the holding of doors are all
systematically offered to her light-skinned sister, while she is left behind, unseen and unwanted.

But Maud Martha refuses to let how she is perceived determine who she is. On the contrary, she uses others’ gazes to better understand them, as she does, for instance, with her good-looking husband. “’It’s my color’ she thinks, that makes Paul mad, what I am inside, what is really me, he likes okay. But he keeps looking at my color, which is like a wall. He has to jump over it in order to meet and touch what I’ve got for him. He has to jump away up high in order to see it. He gets awful tired of all that

This ability to dissociate who she is from how she is seen is key to Maud Martha’s strengths — it’s the origin of her compassion and her self confidence, her ability to see dignity in all human beings around her, to believe herself worthy of love and to
let that love radiate out and fill up others around her. And the intelligence and warmth of Maud Martha is manifest in her description of daily life in Bronzeville and presentation of her neighbors. These scenes, bustling with life and emotional
intelligence, will stay engraved in the reader’s mind.
“What does Maud Martha want? asked Margo Jefferson in her preface to the U.S. edition.“She wants to give shape to the varied materials of life around and inside her. The daydreams and duties, the nagging habits and treasured rituals, the ‘knots of
grief’ and surges of pleasure. Her quest is to become the best possible version of herself.”

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks, translated by Sabine Huynh, editions Globe.
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After almost two decades of working in publishing, and a few round trips between Paris and New York, Miriam has decided to settle down at Albertine to do what she enjoys most: recommending books she loves. Somehow this also includes taking bizarre pictures for Albertine's social media outlets.
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