Wednesday, October 6, 2010

#BookReview: THE FALL OF ROME by Martha Southgate

The Fall of Rome really is a play on words.  The opening character is Jerome Washington, the only African American faculty member at a prestigious, predominantly white, all boys boarding school, The Chelsea School, in Connecticut.  Jerome firmly believes in pulling one up by one's own bootstraps without reaching back to help anyone else that might be struggling along the way.  Thanks to his hard work and his Harvard training, he's been on staff at The Chelsea teaching Latin for numerous years.  One of his greatest passions is studying Rome.

...but I share the view of those scholars who have argued that ancient Rome was a place of racial egalitarianism.  I am not so naive as to believe that this country's long history of racial prejudice has been eradicated.  But I do believe that those of us whom Du Bois called "the darker brothers" could profit from accepting the values that Chelsea at its best espouses.   And while I see this school's standards softening under the relentless onslaught of preferential treatment, I want to continue to uphold the values that the school's founders held dear.

Mr. Washington can barely disguise his contempt for Rashid Bryson, the young freshman from New York.  Rashid has come to Connecticut after the death of his brother, a death that has left his parents shells of their former selves.  Adapting to Chelsea, and its student body, will be difficult for a brown boy Brooklyn.  When he notices that the Latin class is taught by Mr. Washington, he takes the class in hopes that he'll find an ally or mentor in him.

There are so many factors at play within this story.  Rashid is looking for acceptance in a world in which he's unfamiliar.  Mr. Washington is haunted by the ghost of his past and is determined to keep boys that don't belong at a place like Chelsea out of it.  Jana needs a chance to redeem herself from her last failure to save a promising student.

What did you like about this book?
I absolutely loved this book!  Any time you find yourself talking back to the pages and wanting to punch a character in the throat, it's got to be a great book.  Martha Southgate has done an exquisite job of creating such a character in Jerome Washington.  From page one I hated him and, while I kept hoping he would have at least one redeemable quality by the end, he had none.

At one point Rashid gives a speech that sounds like something straight from the mouth of President Obama.  Given that the book was written in 2002, either the author is psychic or it's just a coincidence.  In either case, the speech he gave is just as applicable to the present day real world as it was in the fictional world in which Rashid resided.

What did you dislike about this book?
Nothing. I'm only sorry that more people haven't read it.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Not a thing.

Published January 2002

Theme: Can't Truss It by Public Enemy

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