Wednesday, October 6, 2010

#BookReview: The Fall of Rome - Martha Southgate

You know how you read something really great and you want to discuss it with someone?  Like not later, but right then?  This is one of those books!  When I finished it at 1 a.m. last weekend, I needed to talk about it.  So I turned to the Literary Twitterati and they responded. By the way, if you're not on Twitter yet, the conversation below is why you need to be.

Reads4Pleasure : Just finished a really good book. Sad that it came out in 2002 & I'm only the 5th person to check it out from the library.
_sugaHoney : @Reads4Pleasure what book?
RezanWho : @Reads4Pleasure what is it called?
LDotMarie : @Reads4Pleasure Title?
Reads4Pleasure : @_sugaHoney The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
Reads4Pleasure : @RezanWho The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate abt a blk boy at a predominantly white boarding school. Has problems w/ the only blk teacher
TheLionQn : @Reads4Pleasure I LOVE that book! That's sad :(
Reads4Pleasure : @LDotMarie The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate abt a blk boy at a predominantly white boarding school. Has problems w/ the only blk teacher
_sugaHoney : @Reads4Pleasure y did i KNOW u were talking about that book? Do I have ESP? lmao Its on my reading list & I noticed it in the bookstore 2day
Reads4Pleasure : @readingincolor Ari! Found a book with a teen poc at a predominantly white boarding school!
Reads4Pleasure : @TheLionQn I was all like, why haven't more people read this???
Reads4Pleasure : @TheLionQn and I hated Mr Washington from page 1. Self hatin negroach
Reads4Pleasure : @_sugaHoney lol it's SO good. Hurry up and read it so we can discuss it
LDotMarie : @Reads4Pleasure Are you going to review it?
RezanWho : @Reads4Pleasure ill try it out
Reads4Pleasure : @LDotMarie yep. Should be Friday's post if nothing earth shattering causes me to push it back
Reads4Pleasure : @RezanWho great. Let me know what you think of it
TheLionQn : @Reads4Pleasure I found it randomly in my cousin's TBR pile & stole it.
Reads4Pleasure : @TheLionQn thief! Thieving for books is ok though. Disclaimer: I will NOT bail u out if jail lol
Reads4Pleasure : I love Twitter. Where else can I find people willing to discuss books at 1 a.m.?
Reads4Pleasure : @BlueMonarch The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
BlueMonarch : I loved that book! RT @Reads4Pleasure: @BlueMonarch The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
TheLionQn : YES! RT @Reads4Pleasure: Self hatin negroach
Reads4Pleasure : @BlueMonarch why did I want to fight Mr Washington from the get go?!?!
_sugaHoney : @Reads4Pleasure ok. im gonna review it for a new blog that im working on. probably get to it next month.
prissysnob : @Reads4Pleasure please let me know what you think....when you finish
BlueMonarch : He displayed jerk qualities from jump. RT @Reads4Pleasure: @BlueMonarch why did I want to fight Mr Washington from the get go?!?!
Reads4Pleasure : @_sugaHoney good deal. I'll be interested to see what you think
readingincolor : @Reads4Pleasure Ooo what! Do tell
Reads4Pleasure : @readingincolor The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate abt a blk boy @ a predominantly white boarding school.Has problems w/ the only blk tchr

The conversation evolved into a discussion of other books, but that's the great thing about Twitter.  I've found a community of people that love books as much as I do.  Anywho, you don't care about all of that. You want to know what the book is about.  But if you're interested in being a part of conversations like this, I recommend following the ladies above.

The Fall of Rome really is a play on words.  The opening character is Jerome Washington, the only African American faculty member at a prestigious, predominantly white, all boys boarding school, The Chelsea School, in Connecticut.  Jerome firmly believes in pulling one up by one's own bootstraps without reaching back to help anyone else that might be struggling along the way.  Thanks to his hard work and his Harvard training, he's been on staff at The Chelsea teaching Latin for numerous years.  One of his greatest passions is studying Rome.

...but I share the view of those scholars who have argued that ancient Rome was a place of racial egalitarianism.  I am not so naive as to believe that this country's long history of racial prejudice has been eradicated.  But I do believe that those of us whom Du Bois called "the darker brothers" could profit from accepting the values that Chelsea at its best espouses.   And while I see this school's standards softening under the relentless onslaught of preferential treatment, I want to continue to uphold the values that the school's founders held dear.

Mr. Washington can barely disguise his contempt for Rashid Bryson, the young freshman from New York.  Rashid has come to Connecticut after the death of his brother, a death that has left his parents shells of their former selves.  Adapting to Chelsea, and its student body, will be difficult for a brown boy Brooklyn.  When he notices that the Latin class is taught by Mr. Washington, he takes the class in hopes that he'll find an ally or mentor in him.

There are so many factors at play within this story.  Rashid is looking for acceptance in a world in which he's unfamiliar.  Mr. Washington is haunted by the ghost of his past and is determined to keep boys that don't belong at a place like Chelsea out of it.  Jana needs a chance to redeem herself from her last failure to save a promising student.

What did you like about this book?
I absolutely loved this book!  Any time you find yourself talking back to the pages and wanting to punch a character in the throat, it's got to be a great book.  Martha Southgate has done an exquisite job of creating such a character in Jerome Washington.  From page one I hated him and, while I kept hoping he would have at least one redeemable quality by the end, he had none.

At one point Rashid gives a speech that sounds like something straight from the mouth of President Obama.  Given that the book was written in 2002, either the author is psychic or it's just a coincidence.  In either case, the speech he gave is just as applicable to the present day real world as it was in the fictional world in which Rashid resided.

What did you dislike about this book?
Nothing. I'm only sorry that more people haven't read it.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Not a thing.

Published January 2002

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