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The Triangular Road

In this nontraditional memoir, novelist Paule Marshall explores the rich material that fueled her five decades of work.

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Paule Marshall is best known as a novelist who explores issues of Caribbean and African-American identity. Throughout a five-decade career she has produced novels like “Brown Girl, Brownstones” and “The Fisher King,” populated with characters inspired by her own experience as the Brooklyn-born child of West Indian emigrants.

Now, she untangles facts from her half-century of fiction, recounting powerful first-hand stories of her family and travels. Ultimately, though, her new memoir, Triangular Road, is at least as much about Marshall’s work as it is her life. The 79-year-old’s approach to her past is a nonlinear collection of essays.

This may frustrate those who expect the biographical breadth of a traditional memoir. But those who can accept her less personal approach will find that parts of this work are as rewarding as a richly drawn novel.

Marshall maintains a certain cautious distance from her readers. She writes poignantly and at length of the slave trade that came through Richmond, Va., for instance – but divulges only a few impersonal comments about her own only child. Her first marriage and eventual divorce warrant a few paragraphs; her second marriage, none. She tells us parenthetically that she decided to change her name at age 13 (she was born Valenza Pauline), but never tells us why.

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