At once beautiful, poetic, hopeful and sad, Don’t Cry for Me is a the story of Jacob, a dying black man trying to make amends with his gay son Isaac, whom he has not spoken to for years. The novel is written through a series of letters from father to son.
You must learn to uproot unwanted seeds without destroying the entire harvest. This is the son’s lesson. Nurture good sprouts, Isaac. Toss weeds aside and never think of them again. Just remember that sprouts and weeds are planted together, and weeds have a valuable function. They teach you what to avoid, what not to embrace. There is no good planting without them.
In Don’t Cry for Me, author Daniel Black provides insight into African American history and the accomplishments and legacies of growing up black in the American South. The story brings to the surface the effects of intergenerational trauma with its roots in slavery, the treatment of black American’s as second class citizens, the ingrained need for obedience and conformity as a means of survival and the effects of limited access to education.
Everything we did, whether we were aware or not, we did with white people in mind. Our life’s aim was to make them believe we had value and worth, so we spent our nights trying to figure out what they liked, then spent our days trying to do it. We still haven’t pleased them, and truth is, we never will.
This history shaped gender roles and what it meant to be a man. In knowledge is power and when Jacob starts to read, he is changed. His rigid views about who he is and who his son and wife should be change and soften. He becomes a man who exchanges judgement and self righteousness for understanding and tolerance.
Reading taught me that a man’s life is his own responsibility, his own creation. Blaming others is a waste of time. No one can make you happy if you’re determined to be miserable.
Despite Don’t Cry for Me being about relationships between men, I found it to be an illuminating and powerful read about black history, systemic racism, prejudice, ways of thinking, forgiveness and healing. It made me think and feel deeply, a sign of a good novel.