When I was approached to take part in the blog tour of The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West, two things struck me that made me really want to read this book; the cover as it is so beautiful, eye catching and enticing. The second was the description as this is a story set in 1960s Memphis, a city that is still segregated. Skilfully using Black music and Black literature to portray the hopes, struggles and turbulence of the times, this is a powerful novel set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement in America.
It is the emotionally charged story of Sara King, a young pregnant woman who arrives in Memphis desperate to runaway from her past in Chicago. It is a past that she is determined to keep hidden. But then secrets never remain hidden. It is also a past that means Sara feels unworthy of love and affection. This results in her appearing cold and hard, especially to her baby son. Yet just like the other characters in the novel that are determined to breakdown her barriers, I couldn’t help but love Sara.
One of the characters that loves Sara is the fantastic Mama Sugar. I absolutely adore Mama Sugar who is so vividly portrayed in the story. She is a beautiful force of nature who lives up to her name and acts as a loving mother to Sara. If The Two Lives of Sara is ever adapted to the screen, I feel Octavia Spencer, although a tad young, would be perfect in the role of Mama Sugar. Furthermore Mama Sugar’s endearing grandson, Will is a child who is determined to prove to Sara how much she loves him even though she ties to push him away. Will’s story alone I found very heart breaking.
Mama Sugar, who comes with her own tragedy, is the owner of The Scarlet Poplar, a boarding house where Sara lives and works. The sense of family between all the characters connected to the boarding house is so strong and beautiful, as is the sense of community portrayed in the Memphis neighbourhood. As Sara affectionally observes, a ‘smallish‘ Memphis party is about a hundred people. As much as she is haunted by her past and fights against the offers of love and friendship, Sara falls in love with her new adopted family and community.
And then there is Jonas, Will’s school teacher who beautifully creeps into Sara’s heart, completely breaking down the last of her defences. Through Jonas, Sara finally has a chance to outrun her demons and find a true chance of happiness. But will fate intervene?
This is an emotionally charged and dramatic character driven story that made me really feel for Sara. I could really feel her pain as it was that visceral. Yet for me what makes the this story so poignant and powerful is that even though President Kennedy appeals for racial equality and promotes integration, black people living in America remain extremely vulnerable and are blatantly discriminated against.
Apparently The Two Lives of Sara is a prequel. I never realised. Regardless it is a powerful, unforgettable and thought provoking novel. It has educated me and left its mark which I am so thankful for.
The Two Lives of Sara was released on 22 November 2022 by HarlequinNA / Harper 360, so is available for you all to read.
Thank you to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of the blog tour. To follow the blog tour, please see below.