Book Review: Mint
Reviewed by Alexandra Barbush
A heart-wrenching story of slavery, systemic racism, and the indomitable strength of a 111-year-old grandmother
Mint has lived her life, every day, wondering if she’s better off dead or alive. This tendency, both tragic and morose, has followed her from her harrowing birth to her last days on earth, on the cusp of her 111th birthday.
At the beginning of the novel, Mint waxes poetically about the course of her life and the many hardships she’s endured, saying: “I was born a slave and I am still a slave. It’s just a different kind of slavery.” When her grandson Ruben comes to visit and starts asking questions about the manuscript she compiled over the years about her life, the story begins to unfold.
As she grows up, she starts to realize she looks a little different from the other slave children. As she gets older, becoming more of a woman, she starts seeing slave life for what it can be. She becomes the constant target of assault, especially from her master’s brothers.
Her life continues on, always with a shadow over her past, until she walks as a free black woman, a sentence that comes with its own hardships. Her life traverses love and loss, all told to her grandson, who himself is a writer and hopes to tell her story to a wider audience. Throughout the story, Mint worries about her grandson’s judgment on her life as well as his pain and suffering at seeing and knowing her hard life in all its fullness. While she keeps some things hidden in the beginning, their time together has her opening up, and she goes on to reveal everything she can remember.
“My family tree was coming together—one branch at a time. Unfortunately, its roots were in the cemetery.”
Mint is clear, strong, and intense. Wanting to die every day and having minimal value for human life seems so extreme coming from a grandmother figure, until Swift starts to unveil the past of our heroine and how she went from a naive and somewhat happy slave girl to a woman thrust into the ugliness of the world. This tragic novel features strong memoir-like storytelling and a fresh protagonist. Swift makes the narrative clear, and the reader has no doubt—Mint may be free in the physical sense, but it comes with a constriction that feels like a prison.
No matter how “kind” the Master or how “special” the slave, she begs the question, how free are people born into captivity? Can they ever lose their chains? This is seen especially in the juxtaposition between Mint and her grandson, who, through her story, is just beginning to understand how far the roots of racism grow in this country and in his own life.
Genre: Historical Fiction / Black & African American
Print Length: 346 pages
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