Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli

August 6, 2009 at 1:35 pm Leave a comment

bayouToday’s America is going through another jingoist stage where citizens feel threatened by newcomers from south of the border.  Now, like in the past, immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries are the butt of hostile, angry remarks.  At the turn of the 20th century, Blacks were not the only group murdered by mobs. In 1899, six Italian grocers living in Tallulah, Louisiana, were lynched. Alligator Bayou is the fictionalized story about a young, orphaned teenager Calegero, who is sent from Sicily to live with his uncles in Louisiana. His hard-working uncles own a small produce store. Whites buy from them even while resenting their presence in the community. Some arrogant whites spit out the usual epithets while Calegero’s uncles try to ignore the abuse and continue tending their store. Calegero manages to make friends with some African-American kids, but this, too, is dangerous because Whites do not want Blacks and Sicilians to unite and stand together. In the course of the novel, readers are made aware of unfair voting laws, segregated schools, Jim Crow, and other heinous acts that were in effect at that time.  The chilling story of racism, threats, and actual murders make this a difficult book to read. The murders themselves, however, are not graphically described, but the menacing power of hate is palpable. Napoli has narrated a story that needs to be told.

Lily Hecker, Pelham

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