By Marissa Wells
In 1972, construction workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, discovered a skeleton in a well, unveiling hidden secrets in the community of Chicken Hill, where Jewish immigrants and African Americans live side by side.
When the state attempted to institutionalize a deaf boy, Moshe and Chona Ludlow, residents of Chicken Hill, and Nate Timblin, the unofficial leader of the Black community in Chicken Hill, united to protect him.
So goes, “The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store” by James McBride.
The novel was inspired by McBride’s desire to write a book about a camp for disabled children where he worked while in college during the late 1970s.
“I wanted to honor Sy Friend, who ran the camp, and the children and their parents, who taught those of us lucky enough to work there how to live,” McBride said in a written statement.
After dedicating years to develop the book, McBride opted to take a different route and craft a narrative infused with the unique qualities that defined the camp.
The novel offers a moving portrait of life for African Americans and Jewish immigrants in the middle of the 20th century.
“It’s about a town, the people in it, and the power of love; it really is,” McBride said. “I’m trying to tell people that kindness moves the earth, that small choices you make today toward the good can create justice tomorrow, and that cynicism is like eating poison and expecting your enemy to die.”
The book is composed of intricately crafted characters whose lives intersect in unexpected ways.
“I prefer characters who try to do what most of us try to do in real life: finds ways to beat back evil, envy, jealousy, greed, hate and do it with humor,” McBride said in his statement.
As readers accompany the characters on their journeys and observe the unfolding of their lives, they bear witness to the destructive impact of bigotry, hypocrisy and deceit on a community. Through all the trials and tribulations, it becomes evident that love is the unwavering force that sustains and strengthens this community.
In addition to being an author, McBride is a musician and screenwriter. He is also a writer in residence at New York University. For more information about the author visit jamesmcbride.com.
“The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store” is available for $28 wherever books are sold.