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Promise
Cover of Promise
Promise
A Novel
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In the aftermath of a devastating tornado that rips through the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, at the height of the Great Depression, two women worlds apart—one black, one white; one a great-grandmother, the other a teenager—fight for their families' survival in this lyrical and powerful novel

"Gwin's gift shines in the complexity of her characters and their fraught relationships with each other, their capacity for courage and hope, coupled with their passion for justice." — Jonis Agee, bestselling author of The River Wife

A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a massive funnel cloud flashing a giant fireball and roaring like a runaway train careened into the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people, not counting an unknown number of black citizens, one-third of Tupelo's population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.

When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung by the terrifying winds into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family—her hardworking husband, Virgil, her clever sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Dreama, and Promise, Dreama's beautiful light-skinned three-month-old son.

Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs' dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she's found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him.

During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them. Drawing on historical events, Minrose Gwin beautifully imagines natural and human destruction in the deep South of the 1930s through the experiences of two remarkable women whose lives are indelibly connected by forces beyond their control. A story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race, Promise reminds us of the transformative power and promise that come from confronting our most troubled relations with one another.

In the aftermath of a devastating tornado that rips through the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, at the height of the Great Depression, two women worlds apart—one black, one white; one a great-grandmother, the other a teenager—fight for their families' survival in this lyrical and powerful novel

"Gwin's gift shines in the complexity of her characters and their fraught relationships with each other, their capacity for courage and hope, coupled with their passion for justice." — Jonis Agee, bestselling author of The River Wife

A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a massive funnel cloud flashing a giant fireball and roaring like a runaway train careened into the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people, not counting an unknown number of black citizens, one-third of Tupelo's population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.

When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung by the terrifying winds into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family—her hardworking husband, Virgil, her clever sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Dreama, and Promise, Dreama's beautiful light-skinned three-month-old son.

Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs' dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she's found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him.

During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them. Drawing on historical events, Minrose Gwin beautifully imagines natural and human destruction in the deep South of the 1930s through the experiences of two remarkable women whose lives are indelibly connected by forces beyond their control. A story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race, Promise reminds us of the transformative power and promise that come from confronting our most troubled relations with one another.

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About the Author-
  • Minrose Gwin is the author of The Queen of Palmyra, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick and finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award, and the memoir Wishing for Snow, cited by Booklist as "eloquent" and "lyrical"—"a real life story we all need to know." She has written four scholarly books and coedited The Literature of the American South. She grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, hearing stories of the Tupelo tornado of 1936. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2017

    On April 5, 1936, as part of a four-day series of twisters throughout the South, tornadoes hit Tupelo, MS, and Gainesville, GA, killing more than 200 people; the Tupelo outbreak reached the top of the scale measuring tornado strength. Tupelo native Gwin, whose Palmyra was a Discover Great New Writers pick, lets us relive the events by telling the story of African American teenager Dovey, who stops by the powerful white McNabbs as she rushes home and discovers a baby boy she's convinced is her brother. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2017
    After a natural disaster, two families must confront the awful event that links them.When a tornado struck the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, in April 1936, more than 200 people died. But the black residents who lost their lives during the disaster were not included in the official count of the dead. In her second novel, Gwin (The Queen of Palmyra, 2010) attempts to provide a corrective by focusing on a black family, the Grand'hommes, and a white family, the McNabbs. The story alternates between the perspectives of Dovey, the Grand'homme matriarch and a washerwoman, and Jo, the McNabbs' teenage daughter, who encounter each other in a somewhat contrived moment after the tornado has passed through town. As each woman navigates the devastation of the city while looking for her family, Gwin explores how Tupelo's black and white residents were treated differently in the aftermath while capably deploying flashback to reveal the history of each family and the violent moment that unites them. Though the story is generally well-paced, with foreshadowing placed nicely throughout, readers may become impatient once they've cracked the mystery that propels the plot. At times, Gwin's prose is profound and Faulkner-ian in tone: "Time isn't a river, Jo thought; time is ground and dirt and the roots of ancient trees and the bones of past things. Time is underfoot"; at others, it relies on cliche or the obvious ("melted like snow in the sun") or misfires in its details, such as a remark about Dovey having walked through the McNabbs' front door regularly or Jo's immense regret for using a racial slur, while not providing sufficient evidence for readers to expect such departures from 1930s Southern social mores. Still, those who enjoy Southern fiction that explores both sides of the color line will want to give Gwin's latest a gander, and the novel's especially timely focus on what happens to communities in the aftermath of a natural disaster will draw many readers.Despite some narrative missteps, Gwin's latest effort will inspire further exploration of an underexamined American tragedy.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Jonis Agee, bestselling author of The River Wife "The energy on the pages literally propels us with the force of that fierce and deadly wind, ripping apart the racial barriers, revealing the terrible secrets kept by whites and African-Americans alike. I couldn't put this novel down, and I don't think you'll want to either."
  • Steve Yarbrough, author of The Realm of Last Chances "Promise is a powerful story about yet another forgotten chapter in our great national drama. Minrose Gwin knows her characters well and writes about them and their place and times with sympathy and wisdom."
  • Historical Novels Review "In elegant prose, Gwin illustrates the vast schism in our culture; more importantly, she shows us our shared humanity."
  • Library Journal "[An] atmospheric whirlwind of a book. A memorable, dreamlike narrative [...] that vividly conveys what it was like to survive the fourth most deadly tornado in U.S. history; it also brings to light the vast disparity in the care and treatment of white vs. black residents."
  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution "Promise is innately worth reading because it involves a gripping true story that emphasizes a terribly dark time in America's history, but the inspired, thoughtful and beautiful writing takes it to another level."
  • Jaimee Wriston Colbert, author of Wild Things "This book is a monumental achievement, and Gwin is a fiercely talented writer."

  • RT Book Reviews "This story of bravery and survival is heart wrenching and uplifting, well researched and realistic. Filled with beautiful language and a quick pace, Promise will not be easily forgotten by readers."
  • Julie Kibler, bestselling author of Calling Me Home "Lyrically precise, taut, and realistic, Promise kept me absorbed from beginning to end."
  • Jill McCorkle, author of Going Away Shoes "Promise is an extraordinary novel [...] one of racial divides, good and evil, destruction and salvation and those clear moments of grace and humanity that bring hope into the most desperate times. I could not put it down."
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A Novel
Minrose Gwin
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