With the promise of a fresh start, three women set out for the town of Jerusalem in Jefferson County, Georgia to find a house that may – or may not – be there. The narrator, an old white woman named Amelia, is forced by dwindling finances to move out of her family home, all while reliving evermore vivid and frequent memories. Maybelline, a born-again Christian from another town, is escaping the stigma of being pushed out of her boyfriend’s truck to care for Amelia, who is showing signs of senility. Mamie, an African-American woman, is looking for a way out of a violent relationship when they meet on the road. All three women are seeking redemption in their own ways – and all three find it in a town called Jerusalem.
Like many Southern novels, Praise Jerusalem! deals with serious issues such as race relations, violence and extreme poverty. Like Toni Morrison, Augusta Trobaugh successfully couples lyrical prose with grotesque imagery to draw an intense emotional reaction from the reader. The narrator’s memory episodes focus on her relationship with Aunt Valley, an African-American woman hired by her mother to care for her one summer, and a brief but shocking encounter with a maid’s starving family. As these flashbacks invade the real world more and more, causing Maybelline and Mamie much distress, Amelia recalls Old Auntie – an old woman stuck in a moment of childhood tragedy, a parallel redemption story – and there is a tremendous crescendo before all three women find their places in the new house.
I found Praise Jerusalem! terrifically uplifting. It contains such valuable lessons about the relationship between compassion and pain, and between freedom and the ability to love. If it weren’t for her deep and honest compassion, Maybelline could have been a darkly comic cartoon. Maybelline had suffered but remained sympathetic to both Amelia and Mamie despite their attitudes toward each other, because there always was something in them ready to improve if allowed. As Aunt Valley said, “You can’t throw away love. It just don’t throw.” All it took was a lesson in accepting the compassion of others. There is a great deal of wisdom in Praise Jerusalem!; it is a simply outstanding read. You will certainly be moved!
Caitlin is a fiction writer who also dabbles in poetry, creative nonfiction and acrylic painting. When not reading, she enjoys hiking, cooking and spending time with friends and pets. She earned her B.A. in English from the University of Portland and currently resides in Louisiana.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Bell Bridge Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.