WINNER of the 2017 American Book Award
WINNER of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work (Fiction)
2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Nominee (Fiction)!
A Washington Post Notable Book of 2016
"McFadden uses the experiences of her own ancestors as loose inspiration for the life of Harlan, whom she portrays from his childhood in Harlem through imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp and his struggles afterward to put his life back together."
"Simply miraculous...As her saga becomes ever more spellbinding, so does the reader's astonishment at the magic she creates. This is a story about the triumph of the human spirit over bigotry, intolerance and cruelty, and at the center of The Book of Harlan is the restorative force that is music."
"McFadden's writing breaks the heart--and then heals it again. The perspective of a black man in a concentration camp is unique and harrowing and this is a riveting, worthwhile read."
"The Book of Harlan is an incredible read. Bernice McFadden...has created an amazing novel that speaks to lesser known aspects of the African-American experience and illuminates the human heart and spirit. Her spare prose is rich in details that convey deep emotions and draw the reader in. This fictional narrative of Harlan Elliot's life is firmly grounded amidst real people and places--prime historical fiction, and the best book I have read this year."
--Historical Novels Review, Editors' Choice
"McFadden packs a powerful punch with tight prose and short chapters that bear witness to key events in early twentieth-century history: both World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Migration. Partly set in the Jim Crow South, the novel succeeds in showing the prevalence of racism all across the country--whether implemented through institutionalized mechanisms or otherwise. Playing with themes of divine justice and the suffering of the righteous, McFadden presents a remarkably crisp portrait of one average man's extraordinary bravery in the face of pure evil."
--Booklist, Starred review
"Through this character portrait of Harlan, McFadden has constructed a vivid, compelling narrative that makes historical fiction an accessible, literary window into the African-American past and some of the contemporary dilemmas of the present."
"McFadden's impressive achievement offers us a window into the often very difficult lives of African Americans from the Jim Crow era up to the present--and, unexpectedly, in wartime Germany. Highly recommended for showing us that however badly black citizens have historically been treated, black lives matter."
The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan's parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he eventually becomes a professional musician. When Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are invited to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre--affectionately referred to as "The Harlem of Paris" by black American musicians--Harlan jumps at the opportunity, convincing Lizard to join him.
But after the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald--the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany--irreparably changing the course of Harlan's life. Based on exhaustive research and told in McFadden's mesmeric prose, The Book of Harlan skillfully blends the stories of McFadden's familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.
A Black Caucus of the American Library Association 2019 Honor title, Fiction
"McFadden, writer of great, imaginative novels for years now (including Sugar and Gathering of Waters), is back with one of her best yet. Exploring ritual sacrifice in contemporary West Africa, Praise Song offers a fascinating, painful glimpse into a world beyond America's shores, filled with tragedy and love and hope."
"Perhaps one of the best books of the year, Praise Song for the Butterflies is a stunning, brief portrait that humanizes the plight of those in ritual servitude. It's a fantastic work from a gifted author."
"A fictional West African country is the setting for Bernice L. McFadden's latest work, Praise Song for the Butterflies. Here we meet Abeo Kata, a 9-year-old girl who is ripped from her privileged lifestyle when her father forces her to become a slave in a religious sect. Rescued after 15 years, Abeo struggles to overcome dark family secrets while learning to love again."
Included in BookRiot's "22 Upcoming Releases by Authors of Color Featured at BEA"
"Bernice L. McFadden's novel Praise Song for the Butterflies has received great reviews and will be published today. The book centers on Abeo Kata, the privileged daughter of a government employee and a stay-at-home mother in West Africa whose happy life changes dramatically after she's placed in a shrine as an offering. Fifteen years later, Abeo is finally rescued and must learn to move beyond her traumatic past."
--Good Morning America
"McFadden crafts a compassionate, unforgettable story of loss and redemption."
"Recent favorites [at Mahogany Books in Washington, DC] include...award-winning novelist Bernice L. McFadden's forthcoming Praise Song for the Butterflies, about a nine-year-old West African girl sacrificed into religious servitude."
"The novel has a timeless quality; McFadden is a master of taking you to another time and place. In doing so, she raises questions surrounding the nature of memory, what we allow to thrive, and what we determine to execute...McFadden brings the sweeping drama of her earlier works--The Book of Harlan, Glorious, Gathering of Waters--into this small book, and reminds me of the gentle fierceness of Edwidge Danticat's writing."
--Los Angeles Review of Books
"Praise Song for the Butterflies is written like a fable--one of devastation, but triumph, too. Bernice L. McFadden's novel sheds light on the long practice of trokosi, ritual servitude to priests."
Abeo Kata lives a comfortable, happy life in West Africa as the privileged nine-year-old daughter of a government employee and stay-at-home mother. But when the Katas' idyllic lifestyle takes a turn for the worse, Abeo's father, following his mother's advice, places the girl in a religious shrine, hoping that the sacrifice of his daughter will serve as atonement for the crimes of his ancestors. Unspeakable acts befall Abeo for the fifteen years she is held in the shrine. When she is finally rescued, broken and battered, she must struggle to overcome her past, endure the revelation of family secrets, and learn to trust and love again.
In the tradition of Chris Cleave's Little Bee, this novel is a contemporary story that offers an eye-opening account of the practice of ritual servitude in West Africa. Spanning decades and two continents, Praise Song for the Butterflies will break your heart and then heal it.