From the best-selling author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, a searing multi-generational novel—set in the 1980s in racially and politically turbulent Philadelphia and in the tiny town of Bonaparte, Alabama—about a mother fighting for her sanity and survival
"[A] powerful book.” —Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Gilead
From the moment Ava Carson and her ten-year-old son, Toussaint, arrive at the Glenn Avenue family shelter in Philadelphia 1985, Ava is already plotting a way out. She is repulsed by the shelter's squalid conditions: their cockroach-infested room, the barely edible food, and the shifty night security guard. She is determined to rescue her son from the perils and indignities of that place, and to save herself from the complicated past that led them there.
Ava has been estranged from her own mother, Dutchess, since she left her Alabama home as a young woman barely out of her teens. Despite their estrangement and the thousand miles between them, mother and daughter are deeply entwined, but Ava can't forgive her sharp-tounged, larger than life mother whose intractability and bouts of debilitating despair brought young Ava to the outer reaches of neglect and hunger.
Ava wants to love her son differently, better. But when Toussaint’s father, Cass, reappears, she is swept off course by his charisma, and the intoxicating power of his radical vision to destroy systems of racial injustice and bring about a bold new way of communal living.
Meanwhile, in Alabama, Dutchess struggles to keep Bonaparte, once a beacon of Black freedom and self-determination, in the hands of its last five Black residents—families whose lives have been rooted in this stretch of land for generations—and away from rapidly encroaching white developers. She fights against the erasure of Bonaparte's venerable history and the loss of the land itself, which she has so arduously preserved as Ava's inheritance.
As Ava becomes more enmeshed with Cass, Toussaint senses the danger simmering all around him—his well-intentioned but erratic mother; the intense, volatile figure of his father who drives his fledgling Philadelphia community toward ever increasing violence and instability. He begins to dream of Dutchess and Bonaparte, his home and birthright, if only he can find his way there.
Brilliant, explosive, vitally important new work from one of America’s most fiercely talented storytellers.
About the Author
AYANA MATHIS’s first novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was a New York Times best seller, an NPR Best Book of 2013, the second selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. and has been translated into sixteen languages. Her nonfiction has been published in the The New York Times, The Atlantic, Guernica, and RollingStone. Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop. She was born in Philadelphia, and currently lives in New York City where she teaches writing in Hunter College’s MFA Program.
“Poignant, heartbreaking . . . Mathis skillfully and subtly drops allusions to historical events, sending the reader on a kind of intellectual treasure hunt.” –The New York Times Book Review
"Ten years after The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, Mathis again strikes story-telling gold." –People
“An ardent, ambitious, and carefully stitched tapestry of a novel, one that deserves and rewards our attention.” –The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A decade after taking the world by storm with her debut novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie—the 72nd Oprah’s Book Club selection and an instant bestseller—Mathis is back with a highly anticipated and emotionally propulsive follow-up . . . Through a chorus of distinctive and virtuosic voices, we gather the story of a mother, a daughter, and the land that both unites and divides them.” – Oprah Daily
“Shelter without the grace of welcome is exposure to the worst coldness of the world. Loyalty and the offer of comfort satisfy needs we feel in our bones. In The Unsettled, Ayana Mathis brings these extremes of experience intensely to life. This is a fine, powerful book.” – Marilynne Robinson, author of Gilead
"The Unsettled crosses generations and landscapes, digs in the Southern soil and walks mean Northern city streets. Expansive and explosive, this beauty of a novel showcases Ayana Mathis's grace on the page, as writer, as storyteller. A book to be read and re-read." – Jesmyn Ward, author of Let Us Descend
“Ayana Mathis is one of the most brilliant writers working in today's America. A tour de force, The Unsettled is a poetic and fierce study of the conflicts between circumstances and personalities, between dreams and survivals, between the indifference of the world at large and the passions of individuals.” – Yiyun Li, author of The Book of Goose
“Outstanding . . . Perfectly paced . . . A heartbreaking tale about Reagan’s America that deftly weaves the past and present into the possibility of a bright, if still-unfolding, future.” –BookPage (starred review)
“Another triumph for Mathis . . . Fresh, bold, entrancing . . . [The Unsettled] sparkles even as it cuts to the bone.” –Library Journal (starred review)
“An affecting and carefully drawn story of a family on the brink . . . Mathis powerfully evokes the heartbreak and ways best efforts are undermined by social and legal machinery.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A simmering family saga involving fraught efforts in building Black communities . . . Mathis ratchets up the tension all the way to a stunning reveal, which reunites the family members for a reckoning with the truth. Readers won’t want to miss Mathis’s accomplished return.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Surprising and gorgeous . . . Mathis’ long-awaited sophomore novel leaves the Great Migration of her lauded debut (The Twelve Tribes of Hattie) for the 1980s, but her sharp characters, vivid settings, and beautiful sentences remain . . . Hattie fans will not be disappointed.” – Booklist