Four Spirits

Written by Sena Jeter Naslund
Review by Pat Maynard

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, during the turbulent civil rights movement of the 1960s, this novel is a powerful reminder that terrorism is by no means unique to today’s society. When Stella Silver and Cat Cartwright, two local white college students, begin teaching night courses at a local black college, they incite the wrath of factions determined to maintain the bigoted status quo. In an environment that condones police blasting down peaceful demonstrators with fire hoses and unleashing trained attack dogs on them as well as increasingly savage attacks by the Ku Klux Klan, Stella and Cat soon find themselves direct targets in a maelstrom of violence that permeates every aspect of their lives.

The fictional storyline is interspersed throughout with well-researched history, such as the tragic bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where four young children perished — and which I suspect inspired the title for this book. Through the novel’s skillfully drawn, diverse characters, the author enabled me to personally experience the tyranny of this particular time and place on a deeper level than ever before – and the endless resources of courage it took to confront it. How fitting that this book is being released during the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s memorable “I Have a Dream” speech. Once finished, I could only marvel at how far we’ve come since then – and how very far we still have to go before all are assured the inalienable rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.