Book Review Archives

Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

By: Askhari Johnson Hodari Foreword by The Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Reviewed by: Linda A. McQueen
Broadway Books, 2009
$19.99, Paperback

You see somebody on top of the palm tree and ask whether he is healthy or not; if he is not in good health, could he have climbed the palm tree? –Benin, Nigeria, Togo

Common sense is the theme of the above African proverb. It is kept alive by centuries of experiences handed down by word of mouth from African elders. How many times have you talked to individuals and needed to say something to cause them to think about a situation and see the solution? Do you need a message of guidance and inspiration? Welcome to Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs, edited by Askhari Johnson Hodari and Yvonne McCalla Sobers.

This book offers the wisdom of Africa and her children. Each section, introduced by inspired illustrations, offers comfort, inspiration and instructions organized by life cycles: Birth, Childhood, Adolescence, Initiation, and Rites of Passage; Love, Marriage, and Intimacy; Challenge; Ethics and Values; Elderhood; Death and Afterlife.

Within the life cycle categories proverbs and their origin are arranged by theme:

From Love, Marriage, and Intimacy: Marriage—
A happy man marries the woman he loves; a happier man loves the woman he marries. –Africa

From Ethics and Values: Respect and Reciprocity—
Do not laugh at a distant boat being tossed by the waves.
Your relatives may be in it
. –Kenya

And Till you are across the river, beware how you insult the mother alligator. –Haiti


Readers of Lifelines will find more than two thousand African and Afrocentric proverbs from more than fifty countries. The editors avoided proverbs associated with non-African cultures. They selected proverbs in vibrant story-poem form that reflect human experiences and unique views of the world.

Be prepared, though, for some proverbs that demean and exclude women by using male-centered language. Hodari and Sobers do not endorse the sexist language and concepts. Rather they consider these proverbs to represent an authentic aspect of African cultures.

In his Foreword, Archbishop Desmond Tutu recalls proverbs that guided his life growing up in South Africa. He recalls one proverb often repeated to him as a child: “A person is a person through other persons." This proverb, he writes, is a truth he often repeats.

This book is a treasured gem that libraries, families, and individuals should have in their collection of literary materials. Here, you’ll find the right lifeline you’re looking for. Nov 2009


Linda A. McQueen is the Library Media Specialist at the Alabama Department of Youth Services McNeel School-Vacca Campus.