Marita Golden's "Migrations of the Heart" takes her readers on a marvelous journey--her own personal odyssey.
She begins with the love of a daughter for her father. As a young girl, Marita adoringly listened to her father's tales of the black past. Of the panther-like "Goldie" and those comfortable occasions she recalls:
"In school he went as far as the sixth grade, then learned the rest on his own. Part of the rest he bequeathed to me, gold nuggets of fact, myth, legend, dropped in the lap of my mind, shiny new pennies meant to be saved . . ."
Marita's need for those stories, her love for language, her hunger for meaning were born out of the pain and frustration of growing up in a time when those stories--her own--were not otherwise being told in the schools or libraries of the Washington, D.C., where she was born.
In powerful imagery, Golden etches her parents, their personalities, the dynamics of their life together and the forces that ultimately lead them to part. Throughout "Migrations of the Heart" her distinctly drawn characters come alive, events pulsate with energy. And her story becomes ours (autobiography as history), when she remembers the awful days in 1968 when we all mourned the murder of Martin Luther King:
"The voice of an announcer interrupted the program to say that Martin Luther King had been shot, in Memphis, Tennessee . . .
"Listening to my mother's sobs, my body was set on edge by a raw, hard-edged anger that nothing in my life up to then had prepared me for. In that flashing, endless moment that had come on me like a seizure, the blood of my belief in America seeped through my flesh and formed a puddle at my feet."
Her skill in articulating those feelings helps to give meaning to our collective grief and so to exorcise the lingering pain--and the anger.
Like thousands of rural southern blacks before her, Golden soon travels north in search of advancement. But for her New York is only a stop along the way . . . a place to be learned, mastered and left.
"After a year and a half, I had learned to strut, balance the city on my nose, juggle it with one hand and lay a thunderous slap on its ever extended palm. The Big Apple was a friend who sheltered and possessed me, shadowboxing and teasing. New York was home as Washington had never been, could never be, just as Greensboro had touched nothing of my mother's soul."
She leaves New York for Lagos, Nigeria, for her man Femi, and for her African past. Marriage and family take the edge off her idealism. Motherhood and the desire for secure roots bring her wandering momentarily to a stop. During those years of struggle, growth and change, Golden gives birth to a child, Akintunde. We share in the particular poignancy of his birth and the bonding of mother and child:
"I sat in my study breast-feeding my son. Thick shafts of sunlight filtered through the curtains, creating geometric designs on the floor. The apartment was swathed in silence. My son and I were alone. The lean look of Tunde's birth . . . was soon abandoned for a chubbiness of which everyone approved. At five he nursed greedily. The feeding ritual placed him as close to me as if he were still inside the womb. Joined soul to soul, his head was nestled against my breast, heavy with milk. His suckling noises and my awe at the elemental beauty of our communion locked us inside a time frame exclusive and consuming."
Having given birth to this baby, the child-woman gives birth also to herself; and the reader applauds her newfound strength. In "Migrations of the Heart" the love of a girl for her father evolves through several migrations into a woman's love for her man, her child and finally herself. With that new strength Marita Golden journeys on, leaving the reader, as she has cities and lovers, richer for having known her.