Home » Book Club » Book Club – Angel of Harlem

Book Club – Angel of Harlem

Well, what did y’all think??

I cannot lie – I almost gave up on this book.  The beginning didn’t capture me and the language in the beginning was just too flowery and full of embellishments.  I felt as though the author had a list of descriptive phrases she’d been collecting over the years and that she was determined to use them all in the first 15 or 20 pages of the book.

Having said that, I stuck with it and ended up really enjoying this fictionalized account of Dr. May Chinn’s life.

I felt sorry for May and her mother – her father was a real piece of work and I felt like the trials and loss he suffered earlier in his life would’ve made him a bit more compassionate and loving instead of so very harsh.  The relationship between May and her mother made my heart smile – there is truly nothing like a mother’s love and most of us know that our own mothers would do and sacrifice for us the same way May’s mother did and sacrificed for her.  I loved her!

Speaking of love, while I wished that May had ended up with one of the men that she loved (not her son’s father though) I completely understood why she made the decision to remain single.

My mother and I were laughing at how every single artist of prominence during the Harlem Renaissance was mentioned in the book.  From Paul Robeson to Josephine Baker to Countee Cullen, the good doctor hung out with (and was loved by) everybody who was anybody!

Anyhow, I enjoyed the book and would love to hear what you thought.  You know what to do…

Oh – we’re discussing Henrietta Lacks next month – any suggestions for March and beyond??



13 thoughts on “Book Club – Angel of Harlem

  1. I’ll be back next month cause I really liked the Henrietta Lacks’ book.

    I couldn’t make it through the first chapter of this one. The flowery language got to me. Does it get better or did you just get used to it?

  2. I enjoyed this book.

    May’s father’s whole attitude about everything puzzled me. Isn’t he the one who cheated on his first wife, moved his mistress and new baby down the block from 1st wife and child, and then pulled up stakes and went North leaving first wife in the dust??? I don’t remember hearing anything again about that first child. Yet nothing May did could set right with this man. She got pregnant and he stopped speaking to her! Strange man…

    May’s mother I could relate to. She would move all over town to get her kid in the best school. When White Flight took away the resources, she would move again! My kind of Mother.

    I did want May to marry Steven. I could not imagine a woman in those times living under such difficult circumstances NOT marrying a good man who clearly loved her so much. She chose to scour the dangerous streets of Harlem and NY saving everybody from death on the streets. Yet she was afraid to marry a man and be a wife. It’s as though she thought her life was doomed to be difficult and lonely.
    I enjoyed her tales and adventures with every single famous Black person of the Harlem
    Renaissance. I felt like I was living during those times. Also felt like I was back in Freshman year African American Writers of the Harlem Renaissance class.

    I didn’t find this to be a “hard read”. It held my interest from beginning to end. Now Henrietta Lacks…that’s a different story….

    • Right. How are you going to be that shady in your own personal life and just refuse to speak to your child because she got pregnant. Even if it was the early 1900s.

      That moving tickled me. When I move you move. Loved it!

      When May refused to marry, it reminded me of the Delaney sisters who didn’t marry for similar reasons.

  3. I had to fight my way out of the first 4 chapters of this book, but it did pick up. Seriously, I got so caught up with this baby having a caul on his face that I spent hours reading about what that was. Turns out, it was not important in the book at all. Boo.

    Anyway, I was appalled at the Daddy. I mean really? Was he that distraught over Fanny that he just couldn’t do right by anyone ever for the rest of his life? Ugh. I think he was just sorry and bullheaded to begin with.

    Really did enjoy her relationship with her Mom, though. That woman did everything for her, and she ended up being just like her.

    • I guess she was setting the scene, but I agree – most of the beginning of the book was unnecessary. I’m really mad that you researched cauls. Between this, the watermelon and the beans, I’m beginning to doubt your roots as a true Southern Girl…

      I wonder if that part about her having a son is true. I’ve read a few short biographical clips online, but none have mentioned her having a child. If she did, I hope they were able to maintain a relationship of some sort.

  4. I liked some of the flowery language at the beginning but she did spend way too much time in the early chapters on things that she either later ignored or spent too little time on. I didn’t know until I finished that it was historical fiction based on a real person so her mention of every single person to know in the Renaissance was annoying and heavy-handed to me. Even after knowing that and reading about Dr. Chinn’s life, I felt like that section would’ve been stronger by leaving out the people she met once or twice but didn’t really get too involved with. It became name-dropping at one point. overall I did enjoy the book but I could have done with less of that section. Her mom was awesome and her dad was in some ways underdeveloped the way he was in and out of her life. In some sections it seemed his indifference matched hers, at other times she was hurt. I guess it’s like that with any fraught relationship.

    • Exactly! How, more importantly, why are you name dropping in a fictionalized account of this woman’s life?? I think you hit the nail on the head – when relationships like that are damaged, sometimes you care, sometimes you don’t.

  5. I’m on page 30-something. I have tried to get into this book, man. I can’t. I read the rest of the T. Due’s Immortals series instead, lol. See ya next month!

  6. I want to thank the person who recommended this book! It was a great selection to give “life” to historical fiction.

    1. May had talents and personality that could take her anywhere she chose to go. However, her physical scarring became a mental and social scarring for her. With that weakness, Gabriel comes along and really takes advantage of her.

    2. Gabriel and May’s son was out of her life for the most part. The adopted parents were users. Once they found out May was a presonal friend of Paul Robeson, they were ready to socialize. The unlikely role of “godmother” was a little strange. But both Phillip and May accepted that title. It was better than nothing when it comes to seeing, holding and knowing your child for a moment in time.

    3a. The father’s self-hatred was projected onto everyone! He had lost his sister — true. But he had also fathered two sets of children and seemed to dare either woman to go where he told them — nonverbally — they could to go.
    3b. The mother’s love was all that gave May hope, encouragement and the will power to keep going–in school, through her social cycles, and in life.

    4. The listing of the niggerati was fantastic but too many names. It seemed like research got the best of the author and she just dumped EVERY name into the mix. I did like Langston Hughes quote: :I have no critical mind. Either I like a thing or I don’t” That often sums up my judging/liking/dismissing a person, place or thing.

    5. Dr. May Edward Chinn’s professional career was outstanding. She was notably first in many areas. But this is a case of professional tunnel vision eliminating the joys of a rewarding and joyful personal life. Mistaken love left a deep scar. Potential love(s) from that long list of Harlem Renaissance characters were not taken seriously.Total and unconditional love petrified her into non-action. So she spent too much time trying to make a decision. Finally she adjusted to a lonely life with no hope of sharing her inner self with another.

    • Sigh. May God continue to bless the unacknowledged one who recommended this book.

      Hmmm. I never thought her scarring had much of anything to do with her relationship with Gabriel.

      Dude was a trip. What kind of father wouldn’t talk to his child because he was mad? Oh wait…

      I liked that Hughes quote too! That is so us – either we like it or we don’t – we don’t necessarily want/need/care to dissect why.

      From the few biographical sketches I’ve read about Dr. Chinn, the author did a wonderful job of capturing her professional life.

      • I definitely put the scarring on her relationship with Gabriel. He saw someone ignored and in need of attention and capitalized on it. That professional tunnel vision happens SOOO much to women STILL today. It was one of the most depressing things to us in undergrad when professionals would come talk to us. Almost everyone was single or divorced. I’m talking over 90%. So not awesome.

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