Oprah’s Book Club 2.0: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

At Bookfinds we are all thrilled that Oprah is back making book club selections. Her second pick, following the critically acclaimed WILD by Cheryl Strayed is a debut novel by Ayana Mathis, The Twelves Tribes of Hattie. The televised interview with Ayana will appear on OWN’s Super Soul Sunday, February 3rd. The New York Times Book Review recently featured the latest Oprah 2.0 pick on their cover. Interestingly, there was no mention of Oprah or her book club in the review. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, by Ayana Mathis (RH/Knopf) was reviewed by Isabel Wilkerson, the author of the prize-winning, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, (Random House, 2010).”

Wilkerson wrote that Twelve Tribes was “raw and intimate…a brutal and poetic allegory of a family beset by tribulations…Mathis tempers the more operatic elements with tenderness and knowing glimpses into the human heart struggling to love…deeply felt.” She says “The story it tells works at the rough edges of history, residing not so much within the migration itself as within a brutal and poetic allegory of a family beset by tribulations.”

Oprah is working on making her newest version of the book club much more interactive online. She is offering lots of videos and reading group questions on her website, devoting a Twitter page to discussions and leading a Goodreads forum. Here you can join the Official Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 group on Goodreads

Below are a few of the glowing endorsements that The Twelve Tribes of Hattie has received.
“The opening pages of Ayana’s debut took my breath away. I can’t remember when I read anything that moved me in quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.”
Oprah Winfrey

“Lush yet deliberate…elegant and sure…a complex and deeply humane story of a mother’s ferocious love and failures at loving…In the vivid specificity of Mathis’s tale, she is telling a universal story, and it is profoundly consoling.”
-Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe

“Mathis never loses touch with the geography and the changing national culture through which her characters move. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is infused with African Americans’ conflicted attitudes about the North and the South during the Great Migration…In the long family arc that Mathis describes, the painful life of one remarkably resilient woman is placed against the hopes and struggles of millions of African Americans who held this nation to its promise…One of the best [novels] of 2012.”
-Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“A triumph…a stone-cold stunner of a novel…magnificently structured, and a sentence-by-sentence treasure – lyric, direct, and true.”
-David Daley, Salon

“The influence of Toni Morrison will be evident in this remarkable page-turner of a novel that spans decades and covers dreams lost, found, and denied.”
-Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune, “Editor’s Choice”

“This brutal, illuminating version of the twentieth century African-American experience belongs alongside those of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston.”
-Marion Winik, Newsday

“A poetic novel…that focuses less on American progress than on the small but powerful moments that are strung together, like beads on a necklace, to make one long strand of a family’s history…Like Toni Morrison, the author has a gift for showing just how heavily history weighs on families, as a learned sense of hope or despair gets passed down from parents to children and dreams die little by little, generation after generation. But if the endless heartbreaks sound melodramatic, Mathis earns your sympathy by making the rare moments of happiness feel simple and true.”
Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A-

“A stirring, soulful novel that spans 60 years and is told in many rich and varied voices. It’s the story of one formidable woman, and of her children-the ‘tribes’-at different stages of their sprawling lives. It’s the story of the Great Migration, and of its ripping, aching effects across the 20th century…The Twelve Tribes of Hattiewallops you from the first chapter, but the book’s emotional power grows with the story as the decades pass and the scope of this family’s life is revealed.”
Shelf Awareness

“Hypnotic…evocative, ambitious…encompassing Dickinson, Morrison, and the poetry of Rita Dove…Mathis understands both heritage and craft.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Mathis’ writing is beautiful and confident; she moves from one voice and scene to the next with ease and creates rich characters and vivid settings. She gets to the heart of these people, gets their voices just right and gives each one a unique perspective and personality…Literary readers will enjoy the craftsmanship and emotional reach, and it’s a natural choice for book clubs with lots to talk about…It’s a beautiful work with more than a dash of heartbreak and hope.”
Boston Bibliophile

“An exploration of race, gander, and struggle…Mathis writes with power and insight. Though less lyrical, she is a more accessible writer than Toni Morrison.”
USA Today

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a vibrant and compassionate portrait of a family hardened and scattered by circumstance and yet deeply a family. Its language is elegant in its purity and rigor. The characters are full of life, mingled thing that it is, and dignified by the writer’s judicious tenderness towards them. This first novel is a work of rare maturity.”
-Marilynne Robinson

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is beautiful and necessary from the very first sentence. The human lives it renders are on every page lowdown and glorious, fallen and redeemed, and all at the same time. They would be too heartbreaking to follow, in fact, were they not observed in such a generous and artful spirit of hope, in a spirit of mercy, in the spirit of love. Ayana Mathis has written a treasure of a novel.”
-Paul Harding

“Writing with stunning authority, clarity, and courage, debut novelist Mathis pivots forward in time, spotlighting intensely dramatic episodes in the lives of Hattie’s nine subsequent children (and one grandchild to make the ‘twelve tribes’), galvanizing crises that expose the crushed dreams and anguished legacy of the Great Migration….Mathis writes with blazing insight into the complexities of sexuality, marriage, family relationships, backbone, fraudulence, and racism in a molten novel of lives racked with suffering yet suffused with beauty.”
-Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)

“Remarkable…Mathis weaves this story with confidence, proving herself a gifted and powerful writer.”
Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Cutting, emotional…pure heartbreak…though Mathis has inherited some of Toni Morrison’s poetic intonation, her own prose is appealingly earthbound and plainspoken, and the book’s structure is ingenious…an excellent debut.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)



A debut of extraordinary distinction: Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family.

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented.  Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave.  She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last—glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life. An emotionally transfixing page-turner, a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity, an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream, Mathis’s first novel heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.


Bookfinds Editor. Book Reviewer.

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