The Talking Drum

Written by Lisa Braxton
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

The deleterious effects of the gentrification of a Black neighborhood in the early 1970s are explored with insight in The Talking Drum.

Three couples, whose lives will intersect, are at the center of this novel, which takes place in the fictional factory town of Bellport, Massachusetts. Two couples live in the Liberty Hill section of the city, while the other lives in neighboring Petite Africa, a rundown area that is the home to many West African immigrants who have brought their traditions and food to the local culture and businesses. Petite Africa has suffered a series of suspicious fires ever since the news broke that a developer wants to raze the neighborhood for an urban redevelopment plan, which will in effect displace the residents.

An idealistic couple, Malachi and Sydney, start a bookstore called The Talking Drum that doubles as an African cultural center. Across the street are Della and Kwame, who have a volatile relationship; Kwame owns a record shop that seems to be entirely devoid of customers, while across town, Omar, a Senegalese immigrant with dreams of resurrecting his drumming career, is trying to keep his wife, Natalie, from leaving him, as she despises their living conditions.

Each character is fully fleshed out and sheds light on the backstories of those affected by having their communities taken away from them under the guise of civic “improvement.”

The book delves into race relations, the immigrant experience, poverty, and the impact of gentrification on the stability of family and community. Rounded out by strong characters, a hot button political issue, and an unsolved mystery or two, this is a book that may cause the reader to see gentrification from a new vantage point.