Morgan Jerkins’ Caul Baby is an expansive, folklorish tale of two families—both headed by Black matriarchs—that intertwine for over 20 years. The Melancons are born with a “caul”—a special extra layer of skin that is said to portend healing powers for both the wearer and anyone who buys a piece. This family exists as pariahs in their home community of Harlem, selling pieces of their cauls to wealthy white folks while turning away Black women. One such woman, Laila, is turned away after requesting the caul to ensure her unborn child’s safety. She loses the baby, loses her hold on reality, and becomes bound to the Melancons in other ways.
Caul Baby hones in on the power of a healing legend in a community systematically ignored and harmed by the medical establishment. Up until the last page, the reader continues to learn just how interconnected Laila and the Melancons are through a spectrum of other characters, from a Black woman prosecutor to an aging midwife. Jerkins’ debut novel asks what it means to be a mother and emphasizes that a community’s care for its own can be the most radical form of love. –Madeleine Janz
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