Po Man’s Child

{Warning: This review mentions a sexual practice some readers may find offensive or troubling. Also, suicide, self-mutilation, and drug addiction.}

It has been said the sins of the parents sometimes come to rest on the back of the children; that in order to shake free of past tragedies, one must fully face them and accept the lessons they aim to teach. Based on my reading of Po Man’s Child by Marci Blackman, I understand the validity of dealing with family history in order to fully move on and achieve a better sense of self.

The novel kicks off during an S&M encounter between Po Childs, the lead character, and her girlfriend in 1991. The encounter results in Po becoming injured. She receives a phone call minutes later about her estranged father’s death. The events are too much to mentally handle, so she checks herself into a mental hospital for a seventy-two-hour observation period. While inside, she reflects on all the woes her family has faced and how they’ve dealt with them.

The book travels back and forth through time as Po’s family legacy is revealed. The action of an ancestor is thought to have cursed his descendants. Uncle George was a slave that repeatedly attempted to kill himself in horrific ways after being apprehended while trying to escape from slavery. Eventually, he succeeded, but his legacy to not have any family member crack under the pressure of life failed (described as falling to “The Curse of Uncle George). Po blames the curse for her numbness, which she addresses by self-mutilating. The book details how the curse impacts the lives of her siblings and parents. Drug addiction, physical and mental illness, infidelity, and multiple suicide attempts cling to the family from one generation to the next. It even extends itself to a woman who married into the family and fled her husband after he attempted to kill himself in front of their daughter.

This book is not suited for every taste due to the different timelines and subject. A lot of emphasis is placed on the past rather than Po’s present. A character’s backstory helps the reader understand their present, but in this case, the level of detail was distracting and made it hard to engage. Many secondary characters are fleshed out in such detail that, in some areas such as Po’s hospitalization, the main character doesn’t stand out.

Po Man’s Child is a challenging read, but I recommend it based on the writer’s craft. While there are multiple low points, there are high notes as well. There are joyous occasions, and in the end, it seems the curse is bent through Po’s will. Blackman weaves in traces of the spiritual world, which helps to guide the characters in stressful times. Once you commit to the novel, the characters’ choices will keep you turning the page to the conclusion.

Reviewer: La Toya Hankins

La Toya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. She is a native of North Carolina and currently resides in Durham, NC. Hankins considers writer and fellow Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. member Zora Neale Hurston as her role model for her ability to capture the essence of the African American Southern experience and living the motto, “I don’t weep at the world, I’m too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” You can connect with LaToya on Facebook and Twitter.