Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Lesson Before Dying

Until very recently, my books have been in storage.  This means, rather than reading stuff I already own, I've been browsing bookshelves online and in thrift stores for something to read.  I found Ernest J. Gaines'  A Lesson Before Dying for a bargain price of $2.00 at a local thrift store. 

The book's award winning status (National Book Critics Cirlce Aware For Fiction) and the narrator's occupation (teacher) piqued my interest. A Lesson Before Dying tells the story of a young black man sentenced to die after being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being convicted of a crime he did not commit.  His lawyer's approach to get him acquitted is to portray him as a lowly animal who didn't know any better.  When the lawyer's defense falls through, the boy's godmother begs the local schoolteacher to visit the boy in prison and convince him that he's more than the worthless animal the court deems him to be.

It's a bleak and depressing book (the title could have told you that), but ultimately a moving one that causes you to think about obligations to family and community, in addition to issues of race, gender and social status.  If I was a high school English teacher, I would consider adding this book to my required reading list. 

P.S: I just found out that this book was made into a movie in 1999, starring Don Cheadle and Mekhi Pheifer.  It won 2 Emmy awards.  Huh.  There you go.

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