Thursday, 11 February 2016

Provenance: A Novel - Book Review

Written by author, Donna Drew Sawyer, this poignant family saga about a black man passing for white during the racist and segregated Deep South in the early 20th century, is both thought provoking and emotive.

The language is easy to absorb and the story moves at quite a pace. By the end of 325 pages we are transported from Richmond, Virginia in the early 1900s to Paris in the 1930s and back to New York and into 1970. So there was a lot of story to pack in within those pages.

I was surprised by the turn of events and the story didn't quite go where I expected it to, which for me had its positive and negative sides. One of the positives was that the story was never predictable (apart from one of the big secrets that I guessed quite early on and was proven to be right at the very end). Travelling around the world with the story showed the depth of research that went into creating this fiction and the writer's dedication to historical detail.

On the negative side, I found that there were quite a few 'main' characters and they all appeared to have secrets. Admittedly, the burden of Hank passing for white was passed on to his family when he died, meaning they had to continue to carry the secret, but I couldn't understand why at least three other people also had something to hide. It took the focus away from Hank's legacy for me.

I also got a bit dizzy with there being several points of view in this novel. As a reader I was jumping from one person's head to another in the space of a few lines, so it got a bit tiring. While this works well in film, I found it exhausting on the page.

That being said, it may not bother some readers and I did find myself turning the pages and dying to know what happened next.

In fact I could see this book working well as a film or mini drama series on television.

I loved the writer's use of dialogue and she captures characters very well in this way. The story isn't over burdened with unnecessary description; there's just enough to capture the imagination and the feelings of the time.

I was only sad that I didn't get the ending I wanted. Although it was implied, I would like to have been a witness to the ending I had predicted and not left unsure. I suppose the writer wanted to keep the reader guessing and it worked.

I think Provenance: A Novel is a worthwhile read and a good debut from this intelligent author.


  1. Great Review. I'm intrigued and will probably read it.

  2. I'd love to know what you think when you do, Susan.