Also by this author: What the Wind Knows
Also in this series: The Real, My Oxford Year
Published by Lake Union Publishing on March 16, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance
Tropes: Racism, Mafia Romance (Amy Harmon style)
Buy on Amazon, Buy on Audible
Narrator: Rob Shapiro
Length: 14 hrs and 52 mins
New York, 1960: For Benny Lament, music is his entire life. With his father’s deep ties to the mob, the Bronx piano man has learned that love and family can get you in trouble. So he keeps to himself, writing songs for other musicians, avoiding the spotlight…until the night his father brings him to see Esther Mine sing.
Esther is a petite powerhouse with a gorgeous voice. And when Benny writes a hit song and performs it with her, their collaboration thrusts the duo onto the national stage…and stirs up old issues and new scrutiny that the mob—and Benny—would rather avoid.
It would be easier to walk away. But the music and the woman are too hard for the piano man to resist. Benny’s songs and Esther’s vocals are an explosive combination, a sound that fans can’t get enough of. But though America might love the music they make together, some people aren’t ready for Benny Lament and Esther Mine on—or off—the stage.
Amidst the “I CAN’T BREATHE” movement this book is as poignant as it is important and impactful. THE SONGBOOK OF BENNY LAMENT is a stark reminder that racism is as prominent as it was 50 or 60 years ago and that the US has her work cut out to bridge the racial divide. I can’t count the many times I bristled and cringed whenever the author used “Negro” or “coloreds” for people of the black community. In the 60s of the last century it was normal and Amy Harmon tried to stay close to reality. It takes guts for an author not to white-wash history and Harmon doesn’t go easy on the reader.
“You wanna change the world, you gotta show ’em what it looks like.”
Through Benny’s eyes and his POV we watch how he meets Esther Mine for the first time. How he goes from never wanting to bind himself to somebody to falling in love with her.
I wasn’t just slipping anymore, I was tumbling, head over feet, and when she sang, nothing else mattered to me.
Benny never wanted to be like his dad, a man he loved but he couldn’t condone his father’s loyalty to Benny’s uncle. Growing up in a mafia family he didn’t want to get sucked into the mob business yet ultimately he struggled to stay completely out of it when he needed to protect his Esther.
Esther was a fascinating character, so full of sass and vinegar (but no piss). She was very aware of the racial divide so being involved with someone as white as Benny Lament took more than courage. It was a daily fight for her life.
“The thing is . . . when you’re close to me, everything inside me goes still. My heart stops. My breath slows. And my mind opens up, like I’m pushing open the windows and breathing in spring. Everything is so quiet that it’s . . . loud. So loud that it drowns out everything else. That’s what you do to me. And I like it,” she confessed.
The story sensitizes you to struggle people of color face even to this day if you let it. It is the kind of tale that makes you want to apologize profusely for the inequality and unfairness. THE SONGBOOK OF BENNY LAMENT isn’t without lighter moments full of tenderness and passion though and it was easy to fall in love with Benny and Esther and her brothers and those balance out the uncomfortable ones. If you are looking for an unforgettable, painstakingly researched book that’ll take you back in black history and music history and makes you think days and weeks after you finish, this is the one you should grab. It is written with the poetry of a melody that won’t let you go.
“For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, in black and in white, we managed to build our famiglia with all the shards and pieces we brought with us.”