cover image Temple Folk

Temple Folk

Aaliyah Bilal. Simon & Schuster, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-66802-028-9

Bilal’s vivid debut collection portrays the dualities and tensions embedded in the lives of Black Muslims in the 1970s U.S. In “Blue,” a dark-skinned girl whose mother calls her “a child so black, she blue,” gains a new sense of self in Chicago, where a man addressing a crowd locks eyes with her while extolling the virtues of dark-skinned women in the view of the Nation of Islam: “the real thing... none of the stain of the ol’ master’s blood running in her veins... a taste of chocolate sweetness out of a dream.” In “New Mexico,” a Black undercover FBI agent grapples with sympathetic feelings toward the Nation of Islam while investigating its leader. A teen in “Who’s Down” suddenly discovers she’s lost her faith. A brother and sister in the epic “Due North” learn shocking secrets at their father’s funeral. Bilal’s finely drawn and unvarnished character portraits leave much space for readers to reflect on their own conflicting allegiances, identities, and beliefs. These singular stories offer great insight on a community underexplored in literature. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME. (July)