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A lyric novel that explores the realities of love, marriage, commitment, race, self-fulfillment and family based on some of the author's own experiences, The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart (Random House, $23.95), is the newest gem by Alice Walker. The book begins with the life of an interracial couple (African-American woman and Jewish man) in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement and follows the experiences Walker imagines grew out of this union and those of other couples who struggle through the tensisons of love and lust. It's an original story filled with truths and tensions, pain and passion that makes us question the costs and rewards of a love forged in fire.

An engaging novel of four Sister-friends, Butterscotch Blues (St. Martin's Press, $23.95), is a tesimony to the hard lessons learned in life and love, by Margaret Johnson-Hodge. On its face, the book seems a familiar tale of relationships and romance, but it becomes something deeper as Sandy Hutchinson searches for a way to build her self-esteem, battered before "black was beautiful," and land a do-right man. She finds both when she meets Adrian Burton, a buttery-complexioned Trinidad native who falls for her raven-colored skin and loving heart. But the 30-something woman also undertakes the greatest challenge of her life when he becomes HIV positive. It's a moving tale that explores what unconditional love really means.

The spirit of sports hero Walter Payton lives on in Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton (Villard, $24.95), a memoir of not just an American football great, but a great American man, by Walter Payton with Don Yaeger. The book, being written before the athlete's death from liver cancer in November 1999, explores the life of the sports hero people called "Sweetness" for his finesse on the field as the NFL's leading rusher, and it reveals a sweetness to his spirit as it details his contributions as father, humanitarian, husband and friend. Written in an unconventional dialogue-style that shifts the viewpoint between the book's many characters, readers get a special glimpse into Payton's life through his words and the memories of people who knew him best.

Take Me to the River (HarperEntertainment, $25), a memoir of a soul singer who also took on the mission to save souls, by Al Green with Davin Seay. From his beginnings as a boy in Arkansas to his ascent to megastardom to his call to preach, the book takes you through the many twists and turns of Green's fascinating journey through life.

Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray (Modern Library, $24.95), a collection of correspondence between two talented African-American writers, edited by Albert Murray and John F. Callahan. These letters tell the story of a special literary friendship but also of the frustrations, dreams and fears of two Black men living in '50s America.

God, Dr. Buzzard and the Bolito Man (Doubleday, $23.95), a memoir of life on Sapelo Island, a Sea-island community of African-Americans off the coast of Georgia, by Cornelia Walker Bailey with Christena Bledsoe. The author, one of the last of her generation to retain the memories of traditional Salt Water Geechee ways, weaves a narrative rich with descriptions of family life, natural medicine, root doctors, island customs and religion. It's a special book that reveals the unconquerable spirit of a people who, though torn from their African homeland, imprinted America with a unique culture that continues to endure.

Dispatches from the Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African American Experience (Columbia University Press, $27. …

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