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THE WORD : A Novel Look at South-Central

January 30, 1994|Carol Tice

When Dorsey High School graduate Jervey Tervalon enrolled in the acclaimed UC Irvine Program in Writing, his advisers told him that his first novel, an opus about his birthplace, New Orleans, just wasn't working. They thought his characters just didn't sound right, not ethnic enough. "So I decided to write something so deeply in the vernacular that readers not familiar with that world"--South-Central this time--"would really have to think about it," he says.

The result was "Understand This," which was just published by William Morrow & Co. Told from eight points of view, the novel tracks a pair of high school sweethearts as they struggle to avoid the gangs-and-drugs lifestyle. "There's a lot of life in South L.A. that has nothing to do with gangs," he says. "Personally, I've never even been in the back of a police car."

Tervalon, 35, now lives in Pasadena with his wife, Gina, a personnel analyst for the city of L.A. His second novel, a history of black Los Angeles told through his own family, is already on his agent's desk.

Of South-Central, Tervalon says: "In some neighborhoods, it's really very quiet--you only hear the gunfire in the distance."

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