Impressions of Rilla Askew’s “Kind Of Kin” by Eugene “Gene” Novogrodsky
The cover of Kind of Kin: road sign showing three dark refugees on a yellow background running, a notice to motorists to be careful.
You might see such in California and Arizona.
And while Rilla Askew’s novel is about illegal Mexicans in Oklahoma, of equal, or more interest is the main character Sweet, an Oklahoma white woman nearing middle age who acquires in a week more problems than most people face in decades.
Yes, illegals are on most of the page, but it is Sweet who remains a month after its reading.
Try these problems.
Sweet’s father is arrested for harboring illegals, and is being held the county jail.
Sweet’s husband, an oil field work, told the sheriff that his father-in-law had illegals in his barn.
Sweet is taking care of her dead sister’s son, who’d been with her father, but now had to be with Sweet.
Sweet’s son is a bully and often pounds on his smaller cousin.
Sweet’s husband’s step grandfather is under Sweet’s care; he is bedridden and can not take care of himself.
Her nephew often runs away, back to his grandfather’s farm, and soon finds the only illegal who wasn’t caught in the sheriff’s raid.
Oklahoma – in the novel – has passed a series of laws aimed at punishing those who help illegals. The legality of the state entering federal issues is doubtful, but the local sheriff is thrilled to enforce the law.
In addition to the grandfather in jail, is a Mexican minister – and he is legal – who asked the grandfather to help hide the Mexican workers who’d fled a chicken plant just t before it was raided by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE)..
Back to Sweet. Her niece is married to an illegal Mexican who has sneaked back into the country after being deported. Sweet, reluctantly, begins to help the niece, her husband and baby.
Mean while her nephew – the niece’s brother – and the lone free illegal drive off in the grandfather’s pickup, heading for western Oklahoma to see the man’s two sons, also illegal.
Federal, state, county and local officials think the nephew was kidnapped. But he is willingly helping the illegal read maps and avoid big cities.
A right wing state legislator wants even harsher anti-immigrant laws passed, and she will get her way, even as ranchers, farmers ,tourist officials, manufacturers, and chambers of commerce oppose them – not on humanitarian grounds, rather for economic reasons.
Sweet plows ahead.
She worries about her missing nephew.
She helps her niece, husband and their daughter hide for several law agencies.
Her husband and son leave her.
She worries about her father in jail.
A lot for ten people to confront, and here is Sweet alone.
Askew’s portrayal of Sweet grows, just as Sweet grows, and her empathy widens to those “next of kin.”
Next Of Kin is not a deep book, not a work of literature, but a page-turning story, full of ethical questions.
What would any of us do if asked to hide illegals – if but for an hour – and that was all the minister asked, but a ride to get them perhaps to Texas, perhaps to another area of the South, never came, and by then Sweet’s husband had told the sheriff that the illegals were in her father’s barn?
Humanity? Circle the wagons and only aid family? Broaden that to include those family have added? Go further to strangers?
Sweet, and she is an inspiring break from conservative Oklahoma stereotypes, isn’t alone, as some in the small town join briefly in helping her niece, husband and daughter.
The book ends, and Sweet emerges as quietly humanitarian, acting on the best of her Christianity, just as her father, the Mexican minister, an Anglo minister, the illegal Mexican with Sweet’s nephew and some townspeople