I graduate from UNC Chapel Hill in less than three weeks, so naturally I’ve been reflecting on my time here and what this university has given me. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I got to meet Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage. She is even more insightful and compelling in person. However, the privilege of experiencing a liberal arts education is more than the opportunities to meet and learn from brilliant minds like Jones. It’s that I could take a course like Justice in Policy, where I learned more about the people behind the statistics about race and power in the United States.
An American Marriage compels readers to think about how the U.S. has failed so many of its citizens while also giving us knowledge of the stories behind this injustice. Roy and Celestial are exemplary members of the professional, middle-class African American community of Atlanta. Everything about their lives looks like American-Dream level success. Roy says in the first few pages of the novel that “if you’re going to be black and struggling, the United States is probably the best place to do it.”
If you read the back of the book like I did, you begin knowing that an innocent man is incarcerated and will approach the upbeat first few chapters with a grim sense of foreboding. Jones focuses her story on the intimacy and heartbreak of marriage and romance, much of it presented through touching personal letters. She doesn’t let us forget that we should be outraged and angry at the injustice her characters are facing, but demonstrates that for many people in this country, there is no option but to live with it.
Marriage and family are the some of the most consistent elements of the ethereal American dream, but it turns out that not everyone can enjoy them freely. In An American Marriage, Jones has brought us an exquisite novel about love and injustice, relationships and personal growth. Her book is about contemporary people with flaws, people who seem both real and familiar. Theirs is a story anyone who has ever experienced or witnessed racism in this country, which is everyone, can relate to. It was a pleasure to read her book and an honor to meet her.