Author: Lalita Tademy
Genre: Historical Fiction
First Line: "On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madame Francoise Derbanne slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes."
Recommended by: an anonymous poster on my blog (April "What Should I Read Next?" winner)
Synopsis: Author Lalita Tademy painstakingly researched her family roots all the way back to the mid 1800's when her family were slaves to a white family in Louisiana and filled in the gaps with a fictionalized story. Focusing on the women in the family the story follows the lives of 4 generations of women: Elizabeth, Suzette, Philomene and Tademy's great grandmother, Emily. It follows how these strong women dealt with the huge injustices that they had to deal with daily in order to create a better legacy for their future generations.
Elizabeth was born a slave to a rich Creole family in Louisiana. Her youngest daughter Suzette would endure heartbreak but see the promise of freedom. Suzette's fiery daughter, Philomene sets her sights on the future freedom for herself and her children as well as economic independence. Then there's Emily, Philomene's daughter, who fought to ensure that her children received their due to make their futures more promising that her own.
My Thoughts: I was a little surprised that I enjoyed this book so much ... after all, it's an Oprah pick and she and I haven't seen eye to eye for awhile when it comes to book choices. I typically love reading about this era in time. It's still very shocking to me that a mere 150 years ago there was slavery permitted in the southern States.
This book runs in the same vein as "Roots" and "Book of Negroes" (two of my favourite books of all time) ... but didn't quite affect me as much as those books and I didn't seem to lose myself in her story as much as I have with other books. I wanted to, I truly did ... it just didn't connect with me as much as I had hoped it would.
"Cane River" follows the lives of 4 generations of black southern women spanning from the mid 1800's to the 1930's. That's a lot of years and a lot of different characters. So many characters that she just couldn't give the time to let us into the individual characters' motivations and inner thoughts. That would have made a HUGE book and become much too convoluted. I found it hard enough keeping track of which children belonged to which mother (thankfully Tademy has a family tree at the beginning of the book to help the reader).
I do give Tademy huge credit for painstakingly researching her family history. Who wouldn't want to do that?!? I enjoyed the fact that she was able to include bills of sale and photos to add to her story and help the reader get a better mental picture of the characters.
I also found it fascinating how the book dealt with racism and inter-racial relationships, including the racisim within the black community (light-skinned vs dark skinned) and how 'bleaching the line' by choice or by force these women bore children to the rich, white plantation owners. Emily and Philomene believed that the less African their children appeared, the more options they'd have in their future.
Overall this was a good read and I would recommend it based on the fact that it does have a good storyline, strong female characters and deals with an era in time that still effects us today.
My Rating: 3.5/5