I don’t know where I’ve been, but I’d never heard of Will Campbell or Brother to a Dragonfly. What a book! My mind was making little explosions as I read through the pages of this memoir about two brothers, the South, and racism. The telling of it touched me deeply. What I take away from it now is different than what I would have taken away as a younger person–and times have changed. We go through evolutions in our lives, and we come to see things differently than we once did. Will Campbell, as well, learns and sorts as he goes. The imagery is powerful, and the message is powerful. The book’s two threads, interwoven to the end, captivated me: the brothers and their somewhat painful but loyal and loving relationship, and the preacher who is the man for the job as he carries the race burden for the marginalized and strives to use his life to awaken the country to its ignorance and injustice.
Campbell’s total conversion, after twenty years of preaching, is worth reading. He is asked which one of two men does God love most, a man who was recently murdered? Or the person who murdered him? Campbell struggles to answer. Moments later he has an epiphany. “Suddenly everything became clear. Everything. It was a revelation. The glow of the malt which we were well into by then seemed to illuminate and intensify it. I walked across the room and opened the blind, staring directly into the glare of the street light. And I began to whimper. But the crying was interspersed with laughter. It was a strange experience. . .” Campbell sees his own wrong thinking even in his acts of well-doing. This leads him in a new direction which is soon to be misunderstood by others. To fully understand the choices Campbell makes, one has to appreciate his mainspring, his faith. In Brother to a Dragonfly the reader is presented with white-washed social injustice. Our own values and, quite possibly, our beliefs about others are up for reconsideration. Will’s brother is troubled which adds another dimension to this retelling of how it was for a brother and a dragonfly. This poignant tale is for the person who wants to be stretched. It is a fascinating read. *some salty language