Leonard Pitts Jr. Presents
The Last Thing You Surrender: A Novel of World War II
Pulitzer-winning journalist and bestselling novelist Leonard Pitts, Jr.’s new historical page-turner is a great American tale of race and war, following three characters from the Jim Crow South as they face the enormous changes World War II triggers in the United States.
Could you find the courage to do what’s right in a world on fire?
An affluent white marine survives Pearl Harbor at the cost of a black messman’s life only to be sent, wracked with guilt, to the Pacific and taken prisoner by the Japanese . . . a young black woman, widowed by the same events at Pearl, finds unexpected opportunity and a dangerous friendship in a segregated Alabama shipyard feeding the war . . . a black man, who as a child saw his parents brutally lynched, is conscripted to fight Nazis for a country he despises and discovers a new kind of patriotism in the all-black 761st Tank Battalion.
Set against a backdrop of violent racial conflict on both the front lines and the home front, The Last Thing You Surrender explores the powerful moral struggles of individuals from a divided nation. What does it take to change someone’s mind about race? What does it take for a country and a people to move forward, transformed?
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Luther stood on top of the tank. He felt his mouth fall open. He felt his mind fumble for language. But there were no words.
It was a camp of some sort, barracks arranged in neat rows. And hobbling, shuffling, tottering toward them from every direction came an assemblage of stick men in filthy black-and-white striped prison suits. Maybe some of them were women, too. It was hard to tell. The creatures seemed sexless.
Dazed, Luther dismounted the tank. His mouth was still open.
The creatures swarmed the colored tankers. It was difficult to believe they were even human. Their eyes were like those of small, frightened animals, peering out from the caverns their eye sockets had become. Their mouths were drawn tight against their bony jaws. You could look at them and see where tibia met patella, count their ribs by sight. They were little more than skeletons wearing rags of flesh.
And their eyes gleamed with a madness of joy, an insanity of deliverance at the sight of the colored tankers. They shook clasped hands toward Heaven, they smiled terrible, toothless smiles, they looked up at the Negro soldiers like penitents gazing upon the very throne of God. A woman—at least he thought it was a woman—took Luther’s hand and lifted it to her cheek. Her grip was like air. She held his skin to hers, which was papery and thin, almost translucent. Her face contorted into an expression of raw, utter sorrow, and she made groaning sounds that did not seem quite human. It took Luther a moment to realize that she was crying because her eyes remained dry, no water glistened on her cheeks. She had no tears left in her.
And Luther, who had never touched a white woman before, who had never so much as brushed against one in a crowd, who had avoided even that incidental contact with a kind of bone-deep terror accessible only to a Negro man in the Deep South who grew up knowing all too well what messing with a white woman could get you, could only stand there, stricken and dumbfounded, as this woman pressed his hand to her cheek. He was a man who had seen his parents tortured and burned to death before his very eyes at his own front door by white people. It had never occurred to him that their capacity for bestial cruelty was not limited to the woes they inflicted upon Negroes.
But here was the proof, this poor thing whose gender he had to guess, this creature whose age might have been 16, might have been 60, holding his hand in her airy grip, crying without tears.
Luther looked around. The place reeked of death and shit, a stink of putrefaction that surely profaned the very nostrils of God. Naked and emaciated bodies lay stacked in piles exactly like cordwood, only their gaping mouths and sightless eyes attesting to the fact that once they had been human and alive. Flies droned above it all in great black clouds, a few of them occasionally descending to walk in the mouths and eyes of the dead.
At length, the crying woman got hold of herself. Luther gently took back his hand. She gave him a shy, weak smile, touched her feathery hand to his shoulder—some sort of thank-you, he supposed—and wandered slowly away. Luther watched her go, still dazed, still failed by language. And he still struggled to understand. It had never occurred to him, not even in his angriest, most bitter imaginings, that something like this was possible.
How could white people do this to white people? How could anybody do this to anybody?
( Continued... )
© 2019 All rights reserved. Book excerpt reprinted by permission of the author, Leonard Pitts Jr. Do not reproduce, copy or use without the author's written permission. This excerpt is used for promotional purposes only.
Praise for The Last Thing You Surrender
Reader Review from Grayson Hugh
5.0 out of 5 stars | A New Classic
The Last Thing You Surrender, is more, much more, than a dry treatise on the subject of racism. It is a love story, a human story, a story of war and peace, it is a story about the love, pain, the joys and sorrows that pass between a parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, sister and brother.
It is the story of what is learned and lost between forces of good and evil. It is eloquent, heartbreaking and beautiful. It is a new classic. Read it, America; read it, world.
And learn some more about that most tremendous gift of all that the Creator gave us: the ability to see things through another's eyes, to care deeply about someone other than one's self, in short, to love.
Goodreads Review: Linda rated it as 5-star-winner
"Do not tolerate disrespect, not even from yourself." (Unknown)
The Last Thing You Surrender is a bountiful harvest of life at its core. Amongst the wheat being separated from the chaff, the edible grains eventually fall to the threshing floor. Every breath taken is part of that process. Every step taken must be in the direction in which goodness rises to the surface, nothing less.
Leonard Pitts Jr. presents a sweeping saga of events during the Jim Crow era in the South. He sets his story down among the upscale residential avenues of Mobile as well as the dusty back roads on the outskirts of the city. World War II leans hard with heavy demand for warfare and the intense preparation of men and women who wear the uniform. Shipping out is a given. When is in the hands of the powers that be.
Pitts injects a bolt of lightning from the very first pages. We meet Marine Private George Simon who is thrown from his top bunk as his ship suffers life threatening damage at Pearl Harbor. George has been injured and can barely lift himself from the floor. It's evident that the ship is taking on water at a rapid rate. Gordy, an African American working in the mess hall, hears his cries and assures George that they will find a way out. But it is Gordy who will never reach the surface on that day.
Driven by guilt, George visits Gordy's widow, Thelma, after being released from the hospital. His intention is to tell her what actually transpired during those hours aboard ship. Both individuals are filled with the awkwardness of the moment enmeshed in the unspoken rituals of the deep South. Pitts sets this scenario up as the staircase leading to the vastness of a time embroiled by hatred, bigotry, oppression, and inhumanity.
With the doorway cracked open, we, as readers, will follow the pathways unfolding in the lives of George, Thelma, Luther who is Thelma's brother, and John Simon who is George's attorney father. There will be a backdrop of war, friendship, family issues, societal norms, and the poisonous hate that spews from the soulless. But there will also be the unfurling of hope, humanity, and decency within the stellar writing of Leonard Pitts. He sees to it that life is laid bare with all of its rawness and realism. And that is the impetus for turning page after page......to see it through......to find the worthy grains that should be within all of us. From the first days of Creation to the last.
Editorial Reviews: The Last Thing You Surrender
“Seamlessly integrates impressive research into a compelling tale of America at war—overseas, at home, and within ourselves, as we struggle to find the better angels of our nature. Pitts poignantly illustrates ongoing racial and class tensions, and offers hope that we can overcome hatred by refusing to sacrifice dignity.”
—Booklist, starred review
“The Last Thing You Surrender is a story of our nation at war, with itself as well as tyranny across the globe. It’s an American tapestry of hatred, compassion, fear, courage, and cruelties, leavened with the promise of triumph. A powerful story I will not soon forget.”
—James R. Benn, author of the Billy Boyle WWII Mystery series
“Leonard Pitts, Jr. does it again. He interweaves stories that grip you from beginning to end. Set during WWII, it shows how race relations in America haven't advanced much. The Last Thing You Surrender will have you entranced with the story, and it will stick with you even after you complete the last page.”
—Southfield Public Library
“I couldn't put it down, and it left me stunned! It’s such a harsh novel, yet at the same time, it’s a hopeful novel that is so relevant today. I'm already telling people about it.”
—Pete Mock, McIntyre's Books, Pittsboro, North Carolina
Leonard Pitts, Jr. is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who pens one of the most popular newspaper columns in America, weighing in twice weekly on controversies of race, gender, politics and popular culture.
Leonard is the author of a series of critically-acclaimed novels, including "Freeman," "Before I Forget" and his latest, "The Last Thing You Surrender."
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