Jam on the Vine

Written by LaShonda Katrice Barnett
Review by Viviane Crystal

In the early 20th century, Ivoe Williams grows up as the unusually intelligent daughter of a Muslim cook and a metalsmith from Texas. Her mother has endured the worst of poverty and has seen the hand of prejudice destroy individuals and families, but trusts in goodness and self-sustainability. Ivoe learns to read early on and falls in love with the mechanical process of putting together a newspaper.

Mentored by two brilliant teachers, one of whom will be her lifelong lover, Ivoe becomes a journalist after years of watching and hearing about lynchings, fires and other devastating events perpetrated against her race. At first Ivoe’s writing focuses on how African-Americans must set an example, but it then evolves into speaking out against the constant travesties suffered with no hope for reprieve.

The essence of this amazing story is an indescribable inner spirit galvanized to do more than endure the worst barbs that life can throw. Read about the source of Ivoe’s indubitable spirit, her mother Lemon and her lover Ona, who teach her about a strength that forges a bond stronger than the hatred of the “white man.” Ivoe and Ona start the first African-American newspaper, and Ivoe explores the truth behind the imprisonment of young African-American men and their living conditions. Persistence is the sacred word of success for Ivoe and all others living in the Jim Crow South.

The language in this novel in some parts reminds this reviewer of Toni Morrison’s exquisite choice of diction. It pervades every reflection, which is followed by stark linear prose paralleling the relentless brutalities depicted. This phenomenal historical novel is a classic work about the journalistic battle against racism and the celebration of life and love. Highly, highly recommended!