NLG member Barbara Rhine recently published a book of fiction, 'Tell No Lies.' Below, Mildred Trouillot-Aristide, wife of Jean Paul Aristide, reviews her book. Upcoming readings with Barbara include:
Tell No Lies by Barbara Rhine has all the elements of good fiction – a suspenseful story line, complicated love interests, complex characters who wrestle with universal principals like fear, betrayal, pride, political consciousness, friendship, gratitude, jealousy and love. The writing is laser sharp. Every word contributes to the dramatic rise and denouement that comes in each short chapter. But the book leaps into the category of great fiction because Rhine masterly weaves fine technique and a very human story with two important political ideologies of the early 1970s: the struggles of the United Farm Workers and the Black Power Movement – without ever being doctrinaire; fiery-red-and-black cover ablaze with UFW flags notwithstanding.
The individual and shared political engagement of lead characters James, Carolyn and Mary Lou, flows naturally. It is central to the story, precipitates the opening action and each step in James’ flight. Like me, you might Google Nyame Jones (to see if he really existed) and end up spending a couple of hours reading about the Black Power movement, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, the Black Panthers, COINTELPRO. As the reader accompanies Mary Lou’s painstaking preparations for the big march – sending Carolyn into the camps to convince each strike breaker to march, arranging meals for hundreds of people – you will want to know more about Cesar Chavez and the horrific working conditions on American farms that he fought to change. Knowing that Carolyn’s communist mom inspired her to risk her own freedom in order to help ex-boyfriend James, will compel the reader to know more about McCarthyism.
The reader of Tell No Lies is privy to a world in which peoples’ everyday lives find resonance in the words of assassinated African freedom fighter Amilcar Cabral: “Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories…” When James asks Carolyn what that means she answers: Nothing is simple, that’s what it means.
Tell No Lies doesn’t take the simple route. It does not slough over tensions between white liberal thought and the Black Power movement; interracial couples; armed vs. non-violent resistance; the Mexican and Black communities in California, circa 1974. Nor does it give a pass to the moral ambiguity of lying even for a worthy cause, or the difficulties of an unplanned pregnancy. The main characters each struggle to reconcile their own political ideology to understanding – or accepting – the other’s struggle. From the first page, the reader knows that there will be no happy ending to Tell No Lies, because life is not simple. What the reader can’t anticipate are the soaring moments of the book that come when James, Carolyn and Mary Lou find peace around the green Formica kitchen table at the quiet house on Joseph Street.
Like birds that had just found their branch, they shifted their weight together, then settled.