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Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a Professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. His book Colored People is a splendid novel, and a classic memoir. It is a moving account about what it was to be ‘colored’ in the United States of the 1950s. The stage for his novel is his native Piedmont, an immigrant town in West Virginia, which he describes in the most vivid and sentimental terms. Gates’ view of the world was of a child growing up in a colored neighbourhood-one which he depicts as ‘not so much of a neighbourhood as a condition of existence’. His neighbourhood’s themes are the book’s themes- the debasement, the villains and heroes, the names (both the derogatory and loving), the culture, the church, the friendships, the love, the vulnerability of his race and its disappointments, his family’s joys and sorrows. Marvellous is his account of his relationship with his mother, and the gradual evolution of young ‘skippy’ into the potent force and unceasing voice against injustice. In the margins of the story we see his rebelliousness and stubborn sense of justice which he inherited from his mother. In the main, the book is about colored life in Piedmont, when white people were not around. It is tempting to look at the book as only about race and prejudice, which it partially is. But it is also about human sentiments and existence written in human language. Its beauty and genius is in capturing what some have forgotten, and what is commonplace, in a language that many don’t possess. It is a human story that almost outleaps any contextualisation. It is a mirror of a lost time, and finding one’s roots. Its beauty lies not only in its engaging insights, but also in its characters and the aesthetic nature of the narrative. His language is never more sublime, grand and almost sailing beyond the known limits of great prose than in the book’s pen-ultimate paragraph: ‘The colored mill picnic would finish its run peaceably, then, if with an air of wistful resignation. All I know is that Nemo’s corn never taster saltier, his coffee never smelled fresher, than when these hundreds of Negros gather to say goodbye to themselves, their heritage, and their sole link to each other, wiped out of existence by the newly enforced anti-Jim Crow laws.’ Gates wrote the book for his daughters Maggie and Liza. But, it is also an Ode to his mother-the visionary woman with elegant beauty who shaped his life. The last chapters read like a son’s valediction to a departed parent-expressing love and regret: the inevitable emotions of the living when death takes a loved one away. Mostly, we read and acquire knowledge to know how things are. But, Gates’ passionate tale is about how things were. Yet, with the sweep and narrative of his life, we observe the unbreakable bonds that tie the past with the present. This is why Gates’ masterpiece, a graceful collection of tales and quest for lost history, is so important.