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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Survivor: The Benny Turner Story by Benny Turner (with Bill Dahl) is the autobiography of blues musician Benny Turner, the younger half-brother to blues legend Freddie King. Benny’s journey begins in Texas in the sunset of 1939 with an overview of his family history, delving immediately into the lineage of his paternal grandfather, a white plantation owner. Turner tells stories of growing up, picking cotton alongside his brother, Freddie; a childhood fraught with light memories and dark scars, segregation, a poverty that necessitated eating red clay dirt when candy wasn’t affordable, hunting, and reading comic books at night with the brother he shared a bed with. The story soon grows into Benny and Freddie listening to the blues until the opportunity to earn a guitar presents itself. From Texas, the boys join the Great Migration to Chicago, where Benny found himself being bullied and the harshness of day-to-day life could be offset by moments where his world became wrapped in music.
In reading Survivor: The Benny Turner Story, it feels like Benny Turner is sitting with you as a friend at the kitchen table, sharing his history. The book is both acute and easy to read, with Turner’s voice prevalent in every word. While the subject matter is often difficult to absorb by sheer virtue of its portrayal of the author’s hardships, the writing is so comfortable that it makes even the book’s most heartbreaking moments palatable. I was unfamiliar with Benny Turner before delving into his autobiography, but now that he’s penned his life in such a vivid memoir, I’d like nothing more than to recommend readers to invite him to a place at their table, so they too can appreciate how aptly named Turner’s book is. There can be no doubt that Benny Turner is the ultimate survivor.