James Baldwin's novel If Beale Street Could Talk (1974) takes the reader through a saga of injustice that finds a young black man in prison near Harlem in the 1970s. This is a love story—the lustful, playful kind—between Fony and Tish, intertwined with Tish's family's trust, which strives to keep the couple strong throughout his incarceration and her pregnancy. This is a devastating portrayal of a family that is armed with irony, grace, and intelligence but that still cannot protect the couple from the hate stacked against them. The young woman's narrative voice conveys the terror and the tenderness.

The groans of painful histories, the sighs of joyful family communion, and...

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