I wasn’t going to write this review, but I couldn’t get it out of my head!
I read this book with Sasha, in our unorganized book club.
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriageis a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.
Buy it – Amazon
Here’s my review : it was messy, intense, and sad. Just what I like in a book. I gave it three stars.
I originally gave it four/five stars, but I just couldn’t do it.
A couple, Celestial & Roy, have been married for a year. He gets arrested and sentenced to twelve years of jail for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. Their relationship breaks apart in the years that they are gone. Will it survive?
I understood that I’m not necessarily supposed to focus on the crime. The focus is mass incarceration, and the fact that a black man was convicted with little to no evidence. Here’s a book about mass incarceration if you’re interested in reading more on the topic. That’s one thing I will say, if someone wasn’t skeptical of America’s prison system, this book will make you think.
Tayari is a great author. She caught my attention, and held it into the deep of night. The story was on my mind the entire day, and even seemed to haunt my thoughts for days after.….
But not for reasons she intended.
I couldn’t get over the rape. And I feel like the author trivialized sexual violence to get her point about mass incarceration across.
Of all the crimes the husband could have been accused of…why did it have to be sexual violence? Robbery would have worked just fine.
Maybe I would have been able to ignore this, if the story was set back in the 60’s, or sometime around then. But it wasn’t….
There’s no racial description of the woman who was assaulted.
“Somebody raped that woman—that was clear from her shaky fingers twitching in her lap—but not me. I remember feeling tender toward her when I met her that night at the ice machine. I told her that she reminded me of my mother and she said she always wanted a son. Walking to her room, I spilled my guts, telling her about my stupid fight with Celestial, and she promised to light a candle for me.
At the trial, I was a little sorry for her as she marched her way through her awful story, ruining my life. She spoke carefully, as though she memorized her statement, using textbook terms to describe her own body and what had been done to it. She stared at me in the courtroom with a mouth quivering with fear but also with hurt and rage. In her mind, I was the one who did it, just after she prayed for me and for my marriage and the baby.”
I assumed the woman was white, and my assumption was valid. I assumed this was a case like that of the Scottsboro Boys. Black men accused of raping white women, when in reality, there was definite racism involved, and they received an unjust trial. Back in those days, in Jim Crow South, black men were consistently accused of raping and murdering white women…and white women were constantly accusing them as well. (side note: here’s an article about Recy Taylor, a black woman assaulted by seven white men in 1944. )
Halfway through the book, I realized this. And I realized that I’d been assuming she was white the entire time. Why? Because the only way a black man would be convicted for rape that quickly, is if it was of a white woman. Look at R. Kelly. Why has he evaded conviction for over two decades? Because he preys upon young black women.
But we don’t know what that woman was. She could have been a black woman. She could have been a brown woman. This story was set in the 90’s…not during the Jim Crow south…in my head that changes things…
I can’t say he’s innocent because he said was. Not JUST because the author said it’s so. Rapists lie all the time.
There was a scene at the end, where his mother asks him if he did it. Basically…his mother wasn’t 100% sure, and she still supported him. Just like with R. Kelly…there are thousands of black women who still support him.
“Little Roy,” Olive said. “There is no doubt in my mind. I just need to hear from your own lips that you didn’t do it.”
I leaned back, flinching as though she’d spit in my face. Olive reached for me the way you would lunge for a glass tumbling from the table. “I know you didn’t,” she cooed. “I know you didn’t. Please let me hear you say it.”
“I was with Celestial the whole time. You can ask her.”
“I don’t want to ask her,” my mother said. “I want it from you.”
I can’t remember this day without hearing the air around her words, without imagining the tumors multiplying, consuming her body. Olive was dying and I spoke to her with bitterness in “my mouth. That I didn’t know makes no difference.
“Mama,” I said, talking to her like she was slow or didn’t speak English. “I am not a rapist.”
“Little Roy,” she began, but I cut her off.
“I don’t want to talk anymore.”
When she left, she said, “I believe you.”
As I watched her walk away, I made note of everything about her that I didn’t admire. I ignored the devotion that she wore like a cape, I paid no heed of her strength or hardworking beauty. I sat there thinking of all I didn’t love about her, too angry to even say good-bye.”
The story was so disconnected, so much information wasn’t given, and I had no reason to believe that Roy wasn’t guilty. As I read, I felt for Roy. His story really rang true to me, and at times I got emotional. As hard as black people work, no matter how high we get, at the end of the day the system is built against us and will keep us “in our place”.
Then I stopped reading, and I had to ask myself…why did I instantly believe Roy?
The night the woman was sexually assaulted, Roy was in an argument with his wife Celestial. He left the room for fifteen minutes, and came right back. The next day, he was accused of rape by a woman he helped in those fifteen minutes.
He was convicted and given twelve years. There was no evidence, and he was still accused. That is a fault against the prison system, I KNOW. But at the same time, the lack of evidence, did not convince me that HE was innocent. The lack of evidence was bad on both Roy AND the woman. Here’s an article on the backlog of rape kits that exists in Virgina. In 2014, they called for a count of all the untested rape kits. There were 2,902, and the oldest one dates back to 1985.
Unless there is concrete evidence, I will always believe the survivor in sexual assault cases! And that’s not a bad thing.
Here’s some stats from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Netork) about sexual violence & the court system:
- Our of every 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. 310 are reported to the police. 57 reports lead to arrest. 11 Cases get referred to prosecutors. 7 cases will lead to a felony conviction. 6 rapists will be incarcerated.
- Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals.
- The majority of sexual assaults are NOT reported to police. 310/1000 are reported to the police. 2 out of 3 go unreported.
Most rapists are not convicted. Most are set free.
And guess what?
Myth: A lot of victims lie about being raped or give false reports.
Fact: Only 2-8% of rapes are falsely reported, the same percentage as for other felonies.
Anyway. Those are my thoughts on the book.