Recap: Albeit unrealistic, Tribes of Time tells a compelling murder story with a bold statement on the current status of civil rights in our country. It all begins when Dr. Haines Johnson is traveling through rural Tennessee on his way to a science conference. Along the way, he spots a group of six white Klansmen abusing a naked black man, named Cyrus. They are about to lynch him. Impossible for him to continue driving, Dr. Johnson stops the car and saves the man by killing some of the Klansmen. Cyrus finishes them off. It may have been an act of self defense, but between the two of them, they have committed six murders in a matter of minutes. Not only that, but it’s happened in rural Tennessee, where racism remains prevalent and the chances of having a fair trial are slim.
Since Haines has gotten Cyrus into this mess — and because Cyrus is forever indebted to him — Haines hires close lawyer friends of his from up North to represent he and Cyrus in court. They play their cards well, realizing this is not only a murder case, but a case about civil rights, and one that has the potential to take the country by storm. Tribes of Time takes us through the duration of the trial and beyond. But a tip that Haines and Cyrus’s lawyers receive near the end of the trial results in a monumental shift in the case, one that will change Cumberland County, Tennessee forever.
Analysis: The murder and trial are the essence of this strong story, but it would have been better if it were left that way. Instead the author, Jaymes E. Terry tries to include unnecessary additional subplots; for instance, a romance between one of the defense attorneys and a witness that’s added a few hundred pages into the novel.
Also unnecessary is the career-altering project named Sankofa on which Dr. Haines Johnson is working. A time-travel machine, the Sankofa is what Haines finally completes at the end of the novel, after the trial is complete. Though it is mentioned briefly at the beginning of the story, the back summary of the book makes the physics project seem as though it’s a focal point, when in reality, it has no bearing on the rest of the story.
Overall, Tribes of Time has heart. And the fact that Terry sets the story in 2005 makes its statement on civil rights that much bolder; after all, some of us (like myself, a white girl from the North) would find it hard to believe that something like this could still happen today. I found it surprising, but if true, it says a lot about our ignorance about the supposed leaps and bounds we’ve made in the civil rights movement in the last 50 years.
MVP: Dr. Haines Johnson. It takes a lot to save a man’s life and assist with murder, especially when doing it for a stranger. Dr. Johnson’s risk and courage are astounding. It’s impossible to not respect Haines in the utmost way.