One of the Washington Post's Best Books of 2016 So Far
"Simply miraculous...As her saga becomes ever more spellbinding, so does the reader's astonishment at the magic she creates. This is a story about the triumph of the human spirit over bigotry, intolerance and cruelty, and at the center of The Book of Harlan is the restorative force that is music.”
"McFadden packs a powerful punch with tight prose and short chapters that bear witness to key events in early twentieth-century history: both World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Migration. Partly set in the Jim Crow South, the novel succeeds in showing the prevalence of racism all across the country--whether implemented through institutionalized mechanisms or otherwise. Playing with themes of divine justice and the suffering of the righteous, McFadden presents a remarkably crisp portrait of one average man's extraordinary bravery in the face of pure evil."
--Booklist, Starred review
"Through this character portrait of Harlan, McFadden has constructed a vivid, compelling narrative that makes historical fiction an accessible, literary window into the African-American past and some of the contemporary dilemmas of the present."
"During WWII, two African-American musicians are captured by the Nazis in Paris and imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp, in the latest from the author of Sugar and Loving Donovan."
--Publishers Weekly, Spring 2016 Announcements
"McFadden's writing breaks the heart--and then heals it again. The perspective of a black man in a concentration camp is unique and harrowing and this is a riveting, worthwhile read."
"Included in Barbara Hoffert’s ALA Buzz Books Roundup
Sought-after books included Bernice McFadden’s The Book of Harlan, about two African American musicians imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp, so eye-opening that people came up hours before and days after the one-time giveaway begging for copies."
-- Library Journal
"I've finally discovered a writer I should've been reading for years!...McFadden has a gift for placing her characters into the vivid history swirling around them, but keeping their emotional experience front and center in the story. There's a Zora Neale Hurston sensibility to the way she does that."
--MPR News, Kerri Miller's Must-Read
"A moving epic that follows the life of one man, Harlan Elliott, The Book of Harlan weaves real-life characters from McFadden’s own life into a fictionalized story about the treatment of black people during the Holocaust."
--Deep South Magazine
"From Macon, Georgia, to Harlem, and from the City of Lights to Weimar, Germany, Bernice L. McFadden's latest novel follows Harlan and his friend Lizard, two black musicians who are captured by the Nazis during WWII and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. The Book of Harlan blends family history and world history, fact and fiction, to revisit a haunting chapter from the past."
--Hello Beautiful, #BlackWomenRead: 17 Books by Black Women You Need In Your Life This Spring
The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan's parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he eventually becomes a professional musician. When Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are invited to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre--affectionately referred to as "The Harlem of Paris" by black American musicians--Harlan jumps at the opportunity, convincing Lizard to join him.
But after the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald--the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany--irreparably changing the course of Harlan's life. Based on exhaustive research and told in McFadden's mesmeric prose, The Book of Harlan skillfully blends the stories of McFadden's familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.