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Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
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A-Triangular RoadPaule Marshall, known for her works on Caribbean and African American identity, is the author of two collections of short stories and five novels, including Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959) and Praisesong for the Widow (1983). This is her first memoir.

The Topic: In a series of talks delivered at Harvard University, Paule Marshall borrowed a metaphor from her mentor Langston Hughes’s poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" to trace her personal and cultural development through several bodies of water that played key roles in African American history. Those talks serve as the basis of this short memoir, which, while not covering all of Marshall’s 80 years, highlights some of her more significant episodes (including her work with Hughes). Each of the book’s three parts is devoted to one point of the "triangle" suggested by the title, which refers to the three locations that have defined Marshall’s life: Barbados (her birthplace), Brooklyn (the city of her childhood), and Africa (the continent of her larger identity).
Basic Civitas Books. 165 pages. $23. ISBN: 0465013597

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Given the vigor and depth of these 165 pages, it seems a shame that it’s taken Marshall, now nearing 80, so long to write a memoir. Perhaps with Triangular Road, she is now ready to share more of her own stories from a life as a full and compelling as any character she has ever created." Renée Graham

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"The 79-year-old’s approach to her past is a nonlinear collection of essays. This may frustrate those who expect the biographical breadth of a traditional memoir. But those who can accept her less personal approach will find that parts of this work are as rewarding as a richly drawn novel." Rebekah Denn

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"This isn’t just a memoir. It’s a book that provides a rare, honest look at the deep, personal well where one writer draws her strength, a gift that anyone interested in understanding literature should cherish." Karen M. Thomas

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Paule Marshall is a singularly accomplished novelist, soon to turn 80 years old, whose work is not as well-known as it deserves to be. … [T]hough fiction may have pride of place in her heart, Triangular Road reveals a strong gift for self-scrutiny made all the more revealing by quiet humor and what appears to be complete honesty." Jonathan Yardley

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Triangular Road will no doubt have more resonance for those familiar with her work, though it does offer newcomers a taste of Marshall’s intelligence and low-key wit." Tom Beer

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This book, based on a series of lectures … in places reads more like a notebook than a polished work. But it’s a lovely example of a mature writer’s voice, as well as a record of how she found it." Blake Wilson

Critical Summary

All reviewers were highly interested in a memoir by Marshall, an author critically praised but not well known. While praising the book as a whole, they disagreed on the overall effectiveness of Marshall’s technique. Some reviewers felt that structuring the book as a series of essays emphasized Marshall’s focused prose and unique voice. Others argued that readers would have been better served by a more developed, chronological autobiography. But the message of most reviewers was that readers should get to know Marshall better, and all hoped that this brief glimpse into her life would be a means to that end.