Books and Reviews at Greenberry House

Like most booksellers, reading is a large part of my life here at Greenberry House. I have a special old chair, so worn that it sags, where I love to curl up with a good book. Old favorites, exciting new writers, spiritual or challenging, fiction or fact; all pass through my hands and many are worthy of comment. I plan an occasional mention here of a recent book I've read, either to recommend or to warn!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cane River

Cane River by Lalita Tademy
Warner Books, 2001

I come from two long lines of strong women. They survived the hard life of settling in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, the pain and loss of childbirth, disease, economic hardship, the Depression, the helplessness of dealing with alcoholism and many other tragedies and difficulties of life. But none of them, to my knowledge, had to suffer the indignities of slavery. Lalita Tademy's book, Cane River, tells in fictional form the stories of four generations of the women in her family.

The story, focusing on the women that raised children, mostly by white men, in rural Louisiana during the years before the Civil War and into the 1930s, brings home the true tragedies of slavery. The first woman of the family to come to Cane River was Elizabeth, torn from her two children in Virginia and shipped South, still a slave with no control over her fate or the fates of her children. Generation after generation struggle with the truth of being of dark skin in the South, as her daughters and granddaughters bear children to white plantation owners against their will, finally using the desires of these white men against them to better the lives of their children.

The great tragedy for me in this book was that these wonderful women, each beautiful and strong, was unable to realize the glory of their color. Being dark was a burden, and lightening the skin of the next generation became an unacknowledged goal for Suzette, Philomene and Emily as they fought for security in white society for their children. Being able to "pass" as white made life easier, but the resentment that built up in the community against the white men who lived openly and acknowledged their children by these black women shattered lives. Tademy's search for her heritage began in a resentment against the attitudes of the earlier generation against dark skin. What she discovered was that each generation dealt with prejudice and hardship in the only way they knew, and her respect for these women and their difficult choices becomes a wonderful story of their lives.

Although this is fiction, there is a lot of truth in this portrayal. The story doesn't end with a "happy ever after", and it sometimes seems to me that the struggle is still as hard as ever. It's long past time that we learned lessons from our tragic history.

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  • At 8:35 AM, August 28, 2007, Blogger nonizamboni said…

    Leslie, thanks for such a fine review of a book I've wondered about. The author's name has repeatedly caught my eye because in my small hometown in Idaho there was a family named Tademy who lived in the black part of town (which centered around the Baptist Church)next to the Italian section (mine). This blog has opened up a whole new place for me to visit often. Thanks!

  • At 9:24 AM, August 29, 2007, Blogger songcatchers said…

    I have this book and keep meaning to read it. I need to move it up on my TBR pile. Thanks for the review.

  • At 5:14 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Thistle Cove Farm said…

    Great review! I really enjoyed this book even though it broke my heart in places. Apart from the slavery, it could have been a story of any family in North America. Strong women are a blessing in any family.


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