Book Review by Elle Evette, April 22, 2011
Smart Black Books -- Book Reviews, Commentary and News on Literature of the African Diaspora
“Crystelle’s life began when she was born. But it began again when he died.” This quote from the novel, Crystelle Mourning by Eisa Nefertari Ulen, resonates with many readers who have experienced significant loss. The quote also perfectly describes the novel’s protagonist, Crystelle, as she tries to move on and put the pieces of her life back together after her childhood sweetheart Jimmie is tragically murdered.
Crystelle is a woman who seemingly has it all, a career in advertising at a NY based marketing firm, a well paid boyfriend who works on Wall Street, and a family who loves her. But Crystelle is haunted by the memory of her first love Jimmie. Her mourning is so deep that she often dreams of him and feels his presence while making love to her new boyfriend Hemp. Jimmie’s memory is such a significant part of her existence that he is practically the third party in her relationship.
One Saturday, alone and tired, Crystelle takes the train to her home town of Philadelphia where she must confront her past head on in order to move forward with her future.
Why You Should Read It
Crystelle Mourning is not a book for those who read for plot. Instead, it is a novel for readers who are in love with words. It is for those who love prose that is rhythmically beautiful, that flows with emotion and palpable description. Eisa Nefertari Ulen’s novel is slow moving, not to its detriment but to its benefit. The slow pace of the story allows readers to savor every word.
Mourning is a nostalgic tale, filled with descriptions of an urban street lined with row-homes where old folks sit on porches, little girls jump double dutch, and boys play ball. Crystelle describes the old women who swept the fronts of their homes as having flab that hung and “wobbled to the beat from arms fattened by the same tradition of genius that turned the feet of a pig into a culinary classic,” (It is the wonderful quotability of Crystelle Mourning that makes reading it twice worthwhile).
Mourning is an urban story with an inner-city setting, gun violence, murder, and African-American characters. It has many of the typical qualities of urban fiction and yet it is anything but typical. Nefertari Ulen has written this story as literature. It was not written to be consumed quickly and then discarded, leaving only a faint memory that is later confused with the plots of urban novels read before. Crystelle Mourning was written to leave an indelible impression on the reader, not unlike the impression Jimmie leaves on Crystelle.