Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Lesson Before Dying - Ernest J Gaines

This book was another used bookstore find.  A young black man is convicted of a murder that happens during a convenience store holdup.  He was just along for the ride but the real robbers are killed along with the store owner and Jefferson has no one to back up his claim that he was not involved.

The story begins with his conviction where the defense appeals for mercy by describing him as "a be put in the electric chair" and with that twisted logic, not worth sentencing to death.  The conviction is pronounced and he's taken to jail.  His family appeals to Grant, a man who got out of the poverty of their lives, went to college and returned to teach in the town where he grew up.  Jefferson's godmother appeals to Grant to teach him to be a man as he goes to his execution.  Grant is a reluctant teacher, almost cowardly.  He sees himself as a realist and dismisses her wishes as pointless. Nevertheless, he goes to the jail, bullied into it by his aunt, the godmother's best friend, and finds Jefferson convinced his life is not worth any more than a hog's.  Grant keeps visiting and a trust develops that brings Jefferson dignity in death.

I liked how the story unfolded slowly and kept me wondering if Grant would be able to reach Jefferson.  The characters are real people, trying to do the right thing.  Twenty years after being published the treatment of African-Americans in the South has been portrayed in many other stories. This one makes the heartbreak painfully real.

Published:  1993  Read: May 2015  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 9 780375 702709

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