9780156032032

Tattoo For A Slave

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780156032032

  • ISBN10:

    0156032031

  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2005-10-04
  • Publisher: Lightning Source Inc

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Summary

A "tattoo" is a bugle call, a summoning that lingers in the ear. Although Hortense Calisher's family eventually migrated north to New York City, the echoes of their days as a slave-owning Jewish family in the South still resonate with this acclaimed author, who uncovers a part of history never before so strongly and tenderly revealed. Calisher traces her family's years in the South and their transformative move up north, beautifully evoking the mood and texture of the early twentieth century. Her Virginia-born father, a perfume manufacturer, was twenty-two years older than her German-born mother. Marked by longer-than-normal gaps between the generations and conflicts between the mercantile and the scholarly, the "American" and the migr, her family is characterized by Calisher as "volcanic to meditative to fruitfully dull, and bound to produce someone interested in character, society, and time."

Author Biography

HORTENSE CALISHER is past president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and PEN. Three-time finalist for the National Book Award, she is the author of many novels and short stories. She lives in New York City.

Excerpts

Your grandmother never kept slaves," my father says to me suddenly, staring straight ahead as we walk. He should know. Born to her in 1861, in Richmond, Virginia, then the capital of the Confederacy, during what they preferred to call not the Civil War but "the War Between the States," he had been her seventh child, of eight. I, born to him in his sixth decade, by a mother over two decades younger than he, am always eager for these tales that have lain in wait for me, of a childhood that has begun to run alongside my Northern one like its shadow-mate. But he has never said this before."What about Aunt Nell?" I say, hushed. Saying "Awnt" as he always does, of the "Mammy" he had adored. Who had adored him back. I found myself wanting one."Aunt Nell was a freed woman. My mother insisted on that."How did you get freed? He didn't say.He had just come from my grandmother's deathbed. I had been brought in just before. "Say good-bye to your grandmother," he had said. The circle gathered around the great Victorian bed, my two aunts and two uncles, her other remaining children, clearly had not approved, but my father was the head of the family, their support and her favorite.She lay there much as I had known her, except for the closed eyes. Visiting her by custom every day after school, in her two rooms at the far end of our apartment, I would find her in her sitting room, in her wicker rocker, with its side pocket that held the newspapers she still tried to read on her own. Or I would find her in her bedroom, standing by the two huge wardrobe trunks almost higher than she was, one of them open perhaps, though I was never invited to delve. Though she no longer went outside, the wrappers she wore were always of an outside color, dark gray, and with a thing at the neck that my mother said was a fichu. I was learning a lot that had nothing to do with my century.As she lay there, the feather mattress she would never discard floated her high, as if it meant to keep her at center still, not just a tiny person who had had a fall. Nowadays we know that the hip breaks before the fall, but this was before. A word that would always have a special sound to me. This is 1924. Born just before the end of 1911, I am twelve."Ninety-seven," my one aunt had said, the other one adding softer, "Though out of vanity she only admitted to ninety-four."Even now a flutter of smiles, though my father, head bent, had not joined in."They were married in 1852," an uncle said. "Pa came over from England in '27, we were always told. That book he and his crowd are in lists him as an elder-in 1832. But neither one ever spoke age.""We could look it up," the second uncle had said. "Maybe time we should."My father had raised his head, silencing them with a look I already knew the meaning of. Pay respect.Our family doctor, who usually ran in at the slightest, had come and gone, respecting us. As for hospitals, those were for bloody events, like my tonsils. "Will she hav

Excerpted from Tattoo for a Slave by Hortense Calisher
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