Plot/Idea: Tattered Coat successfully manages to be a murder mystery, a journalistic investigation, and a social commentary on racism all at once. While some transitions to memory read awkwardly on the page, Mizrahi's excellent foreshadowing propels readers forward throughout the novel.
Prose: Mizrahi's writing is beautifully voice-driven, featuring a lyrical first-person point of view and gorgeous descriptions of place. The narrative effortlessly switches between multiple character perspectives, smartly depicting events from different viewpoints.
Originality: Tattered Coat is an honest portrayal of the harshness of oppression, covering subjects from the fight for women's rights to the horrors of racism. While the book is compelling, the narrative follows a similar trajectory to other novels about racially-motivated accusations.
Character Development/Execution: Mizrahi's strong, powerful characters carry the novel, especially insightful Hickory and determined Anna. The cast showcases the complexity of interracial friendships and the limits of allyship, as characters weigh whether to protect themselves or fight for what's right.
Date Submitted: June 22, 2022
Mike H. Mizrahi's Tattered Coat is a well-crafted morality play that delivers all the right stuff and ends in a reasonable conclusion. Set in 1905 in the Jim Crow South, it begins with a white boy named Hickory Crabtree who witnesses two killings that happened in one day: A kind woman who is too young to have seen her last sunrise, and her dog, shot for trying to protect its owner. One thing he noticed about the murderer is that he is missing an earlobe. Hickory becomes entangled in the justice system that will pin the crime on an innocent man. Hickory is battling his own demons as he needs to escape from the clutches of his abusive father. Meanwhile, Anna Gaines, a white socialite, returns to her Chattanooga hometown to face her own truths and to leave a legacy of promoting education and tolerance.
I was absorbed by Tattered Coat and found the storyline and characters strong and convincing. It has an empathetic imagining of both its black and white characters. What Mike H. Mizrahi has written here is an interesting example of the way a story about prejudice should work. Tattered Coat raises a lot of questions and you try to answer them because it is a story that encourages you to exercise critical thinking. Hope looms on the horizon, judging from how this story reaches its arc. But it doesn't stop there as you are left to formulate possibilities for the protagonists. I truly cared for Hickory and Anna--my personal hallmark for identifying very lifelike characters. And I'm even more moved by what happens to them at the end. Once you read this novel, it is likely that you will be affected by it. - Reviewed By Vincent Dublado for Readers’ Favorite
Mike H. Mizrahi’s latest novel, Tattered Coat, is a brilliant work of historical fiction. Placed in Chattanooga, Tennessee shortly after the turn of the last century, it tells the story of Hickory, a ten-year-old boy who witnesses a rape and murder.
When Charles, a young Black man, is accused of the murder, Hickory knows he is innocent, but before he can tell local authorities what he’s seen, his alcoholic brute of a father forces him into the wilderness, miles from the city. Anna, a white woman from Atlanta who has been a friend of Charles’s family for years, returns to Chattanooga to lend support. (Fans of Mizrahi may recognize her as the protagonist in his earlier, The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race.) Anna and Hickory join forces, but their every effort is deflected by the racist forces who run the city.
Mizrahi recreates the community as it existed more than a century ago in lavish detail. Not a scene goes by without an appeal to the senses that puts the reader into the story.
He brings to life historical figures like Arthur Ochs Sulzberger who, I had forgotten, owned the Chattanooga Times before he established the New York Times. Such touches show the attention to detail Mizrahi invested in this novel.
The writing is descriptive and at times lyrical:
How I wish we could retrieve the words we regret, somehow grasp them in midair, and shove them back in our mouths before they wound those we love.
Her long red hair, worn down and curled, make me wonder if Rose’s hair had burned with such fire before nature’s brush colored it.
[M]y stomach reminded me that … I owed it a meal.
Such delights pepper the manuscript.
The story is told from multiple, shifting points of view, but the author never loses us. Each voice is important and distinctive. The characters are well designed and authentic.
The plot is carefully constructed, racing to a frightening, yet satisfying conclusion. This book is as close to un-put-downable as anything I’ve read in months. And while the story is set years before our own, the racism it so tellingly depicts makes it relevant to this age.
As a writer whose forthcoming book is also historical fiction with twists and mystery and romance, I appreciated Mizrahi’s skill and learned a great deal from his technique.
Read this book. You will not be disappointed.
-Jim Lewis, Reviewer
A tense Tennessee drama set in the early 20th century, Tattered Coat by Mike H. Mizrahi is a powerful tale of Southern justice, racism, truth, and courage.
A ten-year-old already scarred by too much trauma and loss, Hickory Crabtree is the only witness to the violent murder of a young white woman in the woods. To save a wrongfully accused black musician from an inevitable lynching, Hickory must find his voice, speak truth to power, and overcome a lifetime of fear. Exploring not only the twisted tools of injustice that define America's past, this book also strikes a contemporary chord, as profiling and systemic racism remain alive and well in the United States.
Deeply colored by flawless colloquial language, the prose is instantly immersive, while the shifts between multiple perspectives are smooth and distinct for each narrative voice. Seeing this story unfold from so many viewpoints offers a three-dimensional glimpse of Charles Washington's family and soul, as well as the emotional toll that such tragedies can bring to a community. With a pastoral style reminiscent of Thomas Wolfe, and the multi-generational complexity of Faulkner, Mizrahi draws readers into this story with every line.
Carefully edited for grammatical accuracy and tonal authenticity, this novel tackles some of the hardest truths of American history with grace, nuance, and righteous anger.