The best books on Black-white relations, wherein whites aren't necessarily evil & Blacks aren't merely victims

David Wright Faladé Author Of Black Cloud Rising
By David Wright Faladé

Who am I?

For me, the American story is about “mixedness”—about the ways in which people of various backgrounds and beliefs have come together, oftentimes despite themselves, to make up our modern racial stew. It has been true since the Founding and is all the more so now, even as we, as a society, continue to want to resist it. These novels achieve what I aspire to in my own writing: the white characters are as complex as the Black ones. And in their struggles to make sense of the world, they all reveal the complexity and contradictions of American identity.


I wrote...

Black Cloud Rising

By David Wright Faladé,

Book cover of Black Cloud Rising

What is my book about?

Mixedness—explored in a Civil War story.

By fall 1863, Union forces had established a toehold in eastern North Carolina, including along the Outer Banks. Thousands of runaways flooded the Union lines, but Confederate irregulars still roamed the region. The newly formed African Brigade, a unit of these former slaves led by General Edward Augustus Wild—a one-armed, impassioned Abolitionist—set out to hunt down the rebel guerillas, and also to free the slaves who remained in bondage. For Sergeant Richard Etheridge, the son of a slave and her master, raised with some privileges but constantly reminded of his place, the raid is an opportunity to reunite with Fanny, the woman he hopes to marry one day. It also means an inevitable Cain-and-Abel confrontation between Richard his white half-brother, Patrick.

The books I picked & why

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Property

By Valerie Martin,

Book cover of Property

Why this book?

A thin, little book and a true masterpiece!

Narrated by Manon Gaudet, the mistress of an 1830s plantation outside New Orleans, the novel forced me to adopt the perspective of a person who is both oppressed, as a woman in the 19th century, and oppressor, as a slave-owner, who is keenly observant and stunningly blind. Manon’s body-servant, Sarah, has given birth to a deaf wild-child who Manon cannot ignore, given his striking resemblance to her own husband. Manon, who is obsessed with Sarah too, is incapable of recognizing her as someone being victimized by her husband. She only sees a rival.

I teach Property in my classes. My students hate Manon. They also love the book!

Property

By Valerie Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Property as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Tar Baby

By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Tar Baby

Why this book?

I came to Toni Morrison a little late. This was in the 1980s, after she’d won the Pulitzer. I read Song of Solomon first, upon the recommendation of a friend who told me he couldn’t read the end of the novel without bursting into tears. Next, Beloved: I was so awed that I reread it five times in a row!

At that point, I realized that I needed to circle back and start with her first books. The Bluest Eye and Sula both stunned me.

Then came Tar Baby. I immediately understood it to be different from the others. The novel has significant, primary characters who are white. In the other early novels, white characters might be present, but they are few and very secondary.

Six people live in relative luxury on a Caribbean island. Yet, despite themselves, their racial assumptions inform how they view and treat one another. Tar Baby is an overlooked masterpiece.

Tar Baby

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tar Baby as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Known World

By Edward P. Jones,

Book cover of The Known World

Why this book?

Toni Morrison once described her books as simple stories about complicated characters, and this also applies to The Known World. This beautifully-written novel, told from the perspective of slave-owners, surprises—but in this case, because they’re Black.

I’d come across an instance of African American slave-owning (which were very few) while researching my first book. Jones understands that the contradictions of the premise offer a great opportunity to explore the fiction of American racial identity.

In The Known World, there are no characters in white hats and others in black hats. The African American characters are no more noble than the white ones.

No, slavery corrupts all.

The Known World

By Edward P. Jones,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Known World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Masterful, Pulitzer-prize winning literary epic about the painful and complex realities of slave life on a Southern plantation. An utterly original exploration of race, trust and the cruel truths of human nature, this is a landmark in modern American literature.

Henry Townsend, a black farmer, boot maker, and former slave, becomes proprietor of his own plantation - as well as his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery…


Small Island

By Andrea Levy,

Book cover of Small Island

Why this book?

Set in 1940s England and Jamaica, the novel explores racism and colorism, caste and class. Two couples—one British, the other Jamaican—who are living in one house, end up negotiating their biases in post-WWII London. Bring an illegitimate, biracial baby into the mix, and the tensions run high.

While the impact of Jamaica on British identity is the specific subject matter, Small Island reads as an exploration of the blurring—deliberate as well as unexpected—of cultural and racial lines in the US, as well. In this way, Small Island spoke to me about American-ness as much as it revealed to me the story of race in Great Britain.

Plus, the book is wonderfully, intoxicatingly readable!

Small Island

By Andrea Levy,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Small Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hortense shared Gilbert's dream of leaving Jamaica and coming to England to start a better life. But when she at last joins her husband, she is shocked by London's shabbiness and horrified at the way the English live. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was. Queenie's neighbours do not approve of her choice of tenants, and neither would her husband, were he there. Through the stories of these people, Small Island explores a point in England's past when the country began to change.

Kindred

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Kindred

Why this book?

When I was in college then grad school, everyone was talking about Octavia Butler. Given that I’m not particularly drawn to sci-fi, I ignored the talk. And then I read Kindred. It’s more an exploration of the legacy of slavery than it is a dystopian adventure, though the novel includes time-travel and adventure.

As with the other books on my list, the characters are complex and their dilemmas, seemingly irreconcilable. Set in 1976—significantly, the Bicentennial—the interracial couple at the center of the novel has to combat the attacks and abuses concerning racial mixing—in quite literal ways, as the female protagonist moves back and forth between the present-day and antebellum times, when interracial love was taboo, even as it was quite common, given the power of slave masters over their female slaves.

Sad and triumphant, nuanced and true. These adjectives describe Kindred to a tee.

Kindred

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Kindred as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in slaves, love triangle, and the South?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about slaves, love triangle, and the South.

Slaves Explore 62 books about slaves
Love Triangle Explore 45 books about love triangle
The South Explore 111 books about the South

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Song of Solomon, The Handmaid's Tale, and Colour Bar if you like this list.