Book Review: Bitter Root

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By Anansi
Jackson Advocate Entertainment Writer

The elements of Blues and Jazz lullabying the street of Harlem in 1924 set the mood for this work. The Black community in the heart of Harlem is under attack by monsters forged by hatred and malevolent desires. A family, the Sangeryes, are bound to protect that community from those monsters. Racism is conceptualized and personified through supernatural elements and is depicted as a source of internal and external conflict. It is used to breed new monsters and forces the reader to look at themselves before becoming the very same thing they fear. What makes Bitter Root – a graphic novel written by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown – enticing to read is their unique ability to not only blend cultures of different ethnic groups together, but it shows us how we are not different from one another and that the “monsters” we face throughout life are one in the same.

The conjurer figure is invoked in this Sci-Fi fiction piece. It seems as though one of the rules of the Sangerye family is for the women to tend to the potion brewing and undercover activities. Yet, some of the women seek the battlefield and oppose the patriarchy law imposed on them.

Belinda “Blink” Sangeryes is a prime example. Blink refuses to limit herself to the confines of brewing potions, as not only does she show that she is capable of fighting with the boy, but she aids in moving the family forward toward victory. Ma Etta follows the traditional role of the conjurer and follows the rules of the family, but she is not afraid when pushed to a corner to show why she’s the matriarch of the family.

The Sangerye family shows the mythical power that exists within the Black family. Berg Manigo is the uncle who is a super genius and adds humor within grave situations with his use of tremendous vocabulary. Ford and Cullen Sangerye are the two who will jump in the front line of battle to protect their community and their family from harm. Enoch Sangerye is the black sheep of the family who dabbles in the black arts so that he can provide as much information as he can to support his family. Ma Etta and Nora Sangerye, the elders of the family, are the guides, the fighters, and the voices of wisdom for the younger generations. How the family interacts with one another, and how they unite in the face of danger, isn’t fiction to their audiences, but it shows how solid and unbreakable the Black family has always been.

Bitter Root antagonists are unique and scary because, though the reader may instinctively oppose them due to their horrid appearance and process of creation, it also forces the reader to look deep down within themselves to see that people are all the same without the monstrous transformations. Whether it is the Jinoo or the Inzondo that occupies and fills the Black and white communities with terror – or whether it is the Guizi that terrorize the Japanese – Walker and Brown force the reader to see that the enemies of humanity are one and the same. They call for the reader to stand united against these forces of darkness. Whatever name they may be given or wherever they are from, Walker and Brown show that they all are a danger to society and that it’s best to look past differences before engulfing into darkness.

As stated by Rollin Bishop, “It’s a comic that’s confident in itself and doesn’t need to rely on overwrought high-concept themes. Bitter Root isn’t afraid to tackle weighty issues whilst still having some fun, giving us some new heroes that are much needed in today’s world.” I completely support this due to how effectively Walker and Brown blend events and scenes that forces the reader to relive the trauma of the Black experience. The authors thrust the reader into the fires and collapse of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Drawn into the comics in vivid details, the reader will see Black bodies hang on trees and the resurrection of Ku Klux Klan. As the door closes, a foot is put into the cracks, as genuine Black heroes make their stand. The Sangerye family members are not the only heroes. The community that they protect is full of heroes as well, for they provide the family with the comforts of Blues, Jazz, and the abundance of support that makes the Black community and its heroes a dynamic partnership.

Bitter Root is one of many literary works that shows how vital communal values and heroism are when they work together. Bitter Root Volume 1 & 2 are currently out, and Volume 3 will be coming out at the beginning of November. Be sure to catch up on the adventure.

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Book Review: Bitter Root

By Jackson Advocate News Service
November 4, 2021