On June 17, 2015, twelve members of the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina welcomed a young white man to their evening Bible study. He arrived with a pistol, 88 bullets, and hopes of starting a race war. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes provides a definitive account of the tragedy’s aftermath.
... soul-shaking ... [Hawes] is s a writer with the exceedingly rare ability to observe sympathetically both particular events and the horizon against which they take place without sentimentalizing her subjects. In Grace Will Lead Us Home, the sorrow of the massacre’s three survivors, and that of the relatives left to mourn the dead, is vividly rendered but not to the point of caricature. Similarly admirable are moments when she depicts the difficulties faced by Roof’s family without compelling us to feel for them what we feel for the victims and their relatives ... Hawes is so admirably steadfast in her commitment to bearing witness that one is compelled to consider the story she tells from every possible angle. In doing so, one could be persuaded by a third rationale cited by the survivors in favor of forgiveness: that it leads to closure. Yet one of the most haunting threads in Hawes’s book concerns the way none of the people deeply touched by all the death Roof dealt has achieved anything like closure.
[Hawes] meets the survivors and family members and tells their stories while also exploring how the broader community was affected ... In a welcome touch, Hawes includes the full text of Barack Obama’s eulogy for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, senior pastor at Emanuel and a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate. With empathy and kindness, Hawes bears witness to one of the most horrific incidents in recent American history.
... offers a fuller, more complicated picture of the massacre and its aftermath ... Hawes is a poised writer and a patient observer who trains her focus on the present ... Hawes takes an obsessive interest in his size and fragility...It’s as if Hawes cannot reckon that monstrosity should present in such a package — and these sections want for self-scrutiny on her part, about which bodies might be automatically coded to her as harmless and innocent ... Hawes says that she wanted to write as comprehensive an account as possible. She largely succeeds — if sacrificing, invariably, some depth for breadth. Still, she lands the book with moral force and great feeling, writing about the soil that could produce both the Emanuel Nine and a Dylann Roof.