Have you ever read a book that you totally hated, but at the same time couldn’t seem to put down? That was The Sacrifice for me. Written by Joyce Carol Oates, who has mastered brilliant drama, the book focuses on a young Sybilla, who has survived what is described as a hate crime. The book is racially charged, and so fitting to some of the that have happened recently. The subject matter seems fresh and so relevant, even though the time period in the book is supposed to be the 80s. Set in fictional Pascayne New Jersey, where prosperity and industry have come and gone, all that remains is despair, and empty warehouses that once housed bustling factories. There are broken families, broken schools, and a broken system.
Ednetta, the girl’s mother, was a product of this broken system. She had lived through the civil rights era, lived through the riots that tore through their town. She lived through de facto segregation, and had learned to distrust the police. So when her daughter goes missing, she doesn’t immediately go to the police. Even after her daughter is found, just days after her disappearance, in pitiable condition, she doesn’t want to file a report. Sybilla has been viciously attacked, brutalized, raped. Her mother’s distrust of the system leads to her early exit from the hospital, without having completed a rape kit, or following through with the investigation started by a female police officer.
Even in the 80s, this would have been major news – possibly inciting riots, and protests. Yet, Sybilla remains in hiding, Ednetta keeping her home from school for weeks – out of the public eye, and hiding her from the police officer determined to continue the investigation. After being found, she points the finger at white police officers, making this even more difficult for the public to believe. It then becomes a high profile case, attracting a notable civil rights attorney who had once marched with Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
The story is about oppression, of blacks in this community – over decades of economic and educational inequality, of justice, and truth. Henry Louis Gates wrote a glowing review of the book – yes, that Mr. Gates, notable historian from Harvard. “Striving to inhabit the ‘procession of voices’ on every side of an explosive racial crime, or hoax, perhaps, she reminds us of what is too easily lost in our world of instant and quickly forgotten news – that there is a story behind, and in between, every word of a press release, that pauses in a court transcript are novels waiting to be written, and that pain, fear, and ambition bind us together in common humanity even as they pull us apart.”
Parts of this book I just couldn’t understand. It’s impossible for me as a mother to put myself into Ednetta’s shoes. I kept reading though, and even though I was stunned by the ending, it was quite memorable. The book is actually based on a similar case involving a young girl named Tawana Brawley. As shocked as I was at the brutality of the attack on Sybilla, it’s so believable. That’s probably the most memorable part of the story. It’s a timely story, one worth reading, one to possibly learn from.