Gone Missing in Harlem: A Novel

Written by Karla FC Holloway
Review by Peter Clenott

Historical novels attempt to do two things: entertain and teach. Holloway’s story of the Mosby family is not one of great Tudor battles or sweeping political movements, but rather the methodical unraveling of a truth: that the horrors that people experience can happen on a daily basis in sometimes the most mundane of ways.

The Mosby family is composed of mother DeLilah, husband Iredell, son Percy, daughter Selma and baby Chloe. They are forced to flee their home in North Carolina in a scene that will make your skin crawl, not because guns are drawn or blood is shed, but because in a casual moment of daily routine a childish mistake is made.

The Mosbys escape to Harlem where, if you think things will get easier, they don’t. Gone Missing in Harlem revolves around the kidnapping of Selma’s baby, Chloe. The Great Depression has struck. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby has been kidnapped. Iredell has come down with the flu. Percy is hanging out with the wrong crowd. And Selma is slipping into insanity. Harlem, itself, is a character, a community of people pulled into the vortex of a missing Black child.

Sometimes the teacher in Holloway (she is the James B. Duke Distinguished Professor Emerita of English at Duke University) overcomes the author when she psychoanalyzes her characters. The internalizing can slow the fiction down, deflect the high drama just when it needs building. She is such an evocative writer that the dialogue and action are more than sufficient.

If DeLilah Mosby were alive today, what might she think of the world? Gone Missing in Harlem is Holloway’s door to the past, present, and, unless we come to appreciate the sacrifices that parents like DeLilah still have to make on behalf of their children, the future.