It is 1971. The fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts, is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon expected to transform this dying factory town into a thriving economic center. This planned transformation has a profound effect on the residents who live in Bellport as their own personal transformations take place.
Sydney Stallworth steps away from her fellowship and law studies at an elite university to support husband Malachi’s dream of opening a business in the heart of the black community of his hometown, Bellport.
For Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal, Bellport is where he will establish his drumming career and the launching pad from which he will spread African culture across the world, while trying to hold onto his marriage.
Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary in Bellport for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to nightmares and outbursts.
Tensions rise as the demolition date moves closer, plans for gentrification are laid out, and the pace of suspicious fires picks up. The residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives and question the future of their relationships.
Publicist Laura Marie asked me to join this blog tour for The Talking Drum, the debut novel of Lisa Braxton. I accepted the free review copy that she supplied because I was interested in the issues involving race, class, immigration and urban culture conflict that Braxton raises.
The summary may lead readers to believe that female protagonist Sydney Stallworth is a character who solely plays a support role to others. It's true that she's supportive, but I thought she genuinely believed in her husband's business. The potential of The Talking Drum to become a center for African American culture was important to her. Yet she also pursued her own goals as well by becoming a local journalist. If it weren't for her dedication in following the protests of the African immigrants in Petite Africa against the "urban redevelopment" that would shatter their lives, the truth about the fires in that neighborhood might never have been discovered. I admired Sydney. Because she cared so deeply, I felt that she inspired everyone around her to follow their own dreams.
Della Tolliver is an example of someone who clearly benefited from the presence of Sydney in her life, though Della would never have believed it at the outset. When we first meet Della, she's a very unhappy woman. I didn't like her very much at that point, but she improves her life over the course of the narrative with Sydney's help.
Just as in real life, there is no permanent victory against the forces of "urban re-development" in The Talking Drum. Let us hope that there will always be those like Lisa Braxton who will lift up the voices of the marginalized communities that could be impacted before it's too late.
Lisa Braxton Bio
Talking Drum Buy Links