Desert Isle Keeper
Confessions in B-Flat
Confessions in B-Flat is a resonant and romantic novel, filled with truth and history and finely-etched details. Featuring two young lovers who are passionate about changing the world but unsure of how to accomplish their goals, the reader will remember them and their story long after finishing the book.
It’s 1963, and Atlanta native Jason Tanner is a part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He dreams of both achieving the American Dream for himself and the advancement of Black Americans everywhere, and he hopes to bring these goals to life through non-violent resistance and protest, just as his mentor Martin Luther King Jr. is trying to do. Their unifying goal: to get President Lyndon Johnson to sign the civil rights bill into law.
Anita – Nita -Hopkins, meanwhile, is a Brooklyn native. She organizes protests between working long, killer shifts as a waitress and agrees with Malcolm X’s core belief system – that Black Americans should seize power from a racist and corrupt system stacked against them by any means necessary, and should never back down in the face of the enemy. She’s been arrested in recent protest actions, a fact she wears with fearless pride. She dreams, too, of a better world as she reads her poetry to the beat of a wailing saxophone in the B-Flat Lounge. She is never without her notepad, and uses her words to further the cause.
While King respects Malcolm X’s resist-by-all-means-available ethos, he thinks it might be an impediment to getting the civil rights bill passed. X doesn’t hesitate to condemn the white devils with whom King is trying to work. So too do Jason and Anita struggle to make their belief systems work together.
Somewhat wide-eyed Jason moves to New York to help spread King’s message of non-violence, register voters and train community organizers. The first time he sees Anita, she’s writing poetry on the bus, and he’s struck by the figure she cuts. They have a meeting of the minds and soul over music – and are immediately torn apart by their differing reactions to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
Three more months pass before they see each other again, this time in Harlem, where Jason now lives in his aunt’s friend’s rooming house. One night, Jason walks into the B-Flat, and he hears Anita read her poetry. He has never forgotten her, and is further enchanted by her art. They strike up a friendship as they share the world around them, and this slowly blossoms into romance. But as 1963 wends toward 1964 – toward the assassinations of Kennedy, X and King, toward the Vietnam War – Jason and Anita must learn to understand one another before the world and their core beliefs tear them apart for good.
Confessions in B-Flat has so many good things to say about love, faith, art, politics and family that it astonishes. A wonderful portrait of life in the early 1960s, it also provides a sweet and sometimes heartbreaking romance.
Jason and Anita are both very realistic characters. Jason is driven by patriotism and a thirst for justice; Anita’s thirst for justice has nothing to do with patriotism at all. Anita has moments of selfishness; Jason has moments of blind idealism. But they believe in the worth and goodness of their families and the people closest to them. Their romance is just the right mix of fiery and sweet, and they never allow their true selves to be consumed by their developing love story.
They’re both lacking in the friend department when they meet, but together manage to blossom and grow. Their families are great, especially Jason’s big, warm extended family.
Hill’s Brooklyn jumps to life (as it should; she grew up in the neighborhood where Jason and Anita live), and her period details are excellent as well. She does a beautiful job balancing Jason and Anita’s love story with the turbulent period in which they live, and the novel’s use of real text from X and King’s speeches, as well as archival newspaper clippings and photographs, help the reader step into Hill’s world.
Confessions in B-Flat has a wonderfully timeless quality to it. It comes with my very highest recommendation, and may it provoke strong feelings in whoever picks it up.