It’s early 1960s Memphis, and Sara King, on the run from trouble in Chicago, has taken a job at a boarding house run by Mama Sugar, the aunt of her close friend. There she finds a new community of friends, found family, and even a possible beau, but there’s trouble too, in the form of Mama Sugar’s errant son and the even shadier type after him to repay a loan. Steeped in Memphis’s Civil Rights struggles and packed with a treasure trove of references great Black writers, musicians, and artists, West’s second novel is a powerful and emotional story of a woman trying to find her place in a world. And while the book works completely on its own, readers of Saving Ruby King will savor West bringing one of the secondary characters of that novel to vivid life.— Daniel Goldin
An intensely moving and brilliantly written story of pain and loss and the search for love and forgiveness. Sara moves from Chicago to Memphis to escape a troubled past. There, in Mama Sugar's boarding house, her son is born, and she begins to find her way to the promise of a better life. But dealing with past trauma on a personal level as well as the larger issues of racism and segregation makes her journey difficult. There are no easy answers and no fairy tale endings in this story, but following Sara on her journey is worth every minute spent reading this heartfelt book.— Kathy Herbst
September 2022 Indie Next List
“A beautifully written, complex story of motherhood, found family, grief, reinvention, and redemption. West captures the challenges of fleeing a difficult past and explores profound questions about racial justice in the Jim Crow South.”
— Alyssa Raymond, Copper Dog Books, Beverly, MA
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2022 by Ms. Magazine, The Root, Popsugar, Bustle, and many more
"An utterly absorbing and dazzling novel about the stories we tell to stay alive and the secrets we keep to protect ourselves." -- Nancy Jooyoun Kim, New York Times Bestselling author of The Last Story of Mina Lee
In 1960s Memphis, a young mother finds refuge in a boardinghouse where family encompasses more than just blood and hidden truths can bury you or set you free.
Sara King has nothing, save for her secrets and the baby in her belly, as she boards the bus to Memphis, hoping to outrun her past in Chicago. She is welcomed with open arms by Mama Sugar, a kindly matriarch and owner of the popular boardinghouse The Scarlet Poplar.
Like many cities in early 1960s America, Memphis is still segregated, but change is in the air. News spreads of the Freedom Riders. Across the country, people like Martin Luther King Jr. are leading the fight for equal rights. Black literature and music provide the stories and soundtrack for these turbulent and hopeful times, and Sara finds herself drawn in by conversations of education, politics and a brighter tomorrow with Jonas, a local schoolteacher. Romance blooms between them, but secrets from Mama Sugar's past threaten their newfound happiness and lead Sara to make decisions that will reshape the rest of their lives.
With a charismatic cast of characters, The Two Lives of Sara is an emotional and unforgettable story of hope, the limitations of resilience and unexpected love.