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Book Public: ‘The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store’ by James McBride

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James McBride
James McBride

In James McBride’s latest novel, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, we are in Pottstown, Pennsylvania in 1972. A human skeleton has been discovered at a construction site for a new housing development. Who holds the secrets of this discovery? The answer might be found among the residents of Chicken Hill, a neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans have lived side by side for decades, sharing life’s sorrows and joys–and looking out for each other.

Chicken Hill is the place where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store which served the neighborhood of diverse characters—African Americans and European immigrants. Moshe is a Romanian-born theater owner who integrated the town’s first dance hall.

When the state comes looking for a deaf black orphan named Dodo, with claims that the boy needed to be institutionalized, Chicken Hill residents come together to execute a plan to retrieve the boy, keep him safe, and give him the life that Chona would have wanted for him—and everyone else—a life of happiness in a safe and loving community.

But the denizens of Chicken Hill won’t have such an easy time of it. Their wider space in Pottstown is still one characterized by bigotry, hypocrisy and inequality. How can the love that Chona represents win out in protecting young Dodo and everyone else involved in the desire to ensure a community led by love and charity?

Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.