Inspired by the extraordinary events of Dr. May Chinn's life, Kuwana Halsey's "Angel of Harlem" (One World paperback, $13.95) is an affecting story of love and transcendence. Weaving scenes from the battlefields of the Civil War — during which May's father escaped from slavery — with the Harlem living rooms and kitchen tables where May is sometimes forced to operate on her patients, this fascinating novel lays bare the heart of a woman who changed the face of medicine.
A gifted, beautiful young woman in the 1920s, May Edward Chinn dreamed only of music. For years, she accompanied the famed singer Paul Robeson. However, a racist professor ended her hopes of becoming a concert pianist. But from one dashed dream bloomed another: May would become a doctor — the first Black female physician in all of New York.
Giddy with the wonder of the Harlem Renaissance and fueled by firebrand friends like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, May doggedly pursued her ambitions while striving to overcome the pains of her past: the death of a fiancé, a lost child and a distant father ravished by the legacy of slavery. With every grief she encounters, a resilient piece of herself locks into place.
Alive with the pulse of Black unrest in 1920s New York, the novel moves through a history that is, by turns, ugly and sublime.