Release Date: 1st April, 2002
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
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The "New York Times" bestseller and Oprah's Book Club Pick--the unique and deeply moving epic of four generations of African-American women based on one family's ancestral past.
This was Lauren’s Epic Rec for March. Pretty sure that between the two of us we’ll have crossed every literary genre in existence by December tbh.
Cane River tells the story of three generations of women in one African-American family. Partly biographical, since Cane River is an account of Tademy’s family ancestry, the book weaves fiction with real events that occurred throughout these women’s lives. Taking place in Cane River, a small Louisiana region surrounded by cotton plantations, the book charts the historical events that shaped the area and the people living in it, from the slaves who were owned by the plantation owners, to the racial tension between the white landowners and the free people of colour who lived and worked in the region. It is a vivid account of slavery but also of the unique Creole culture that developed in Louisiana during the colonial period.
The book introduces us to three protagonists – Suzette, Philomene, and Emily. Suzette is the mother of Philomene and the grandmother of Emily, and it is with her the story begins. Born a slave, Suzette dreams of a better life, one in which she can be allowed to learn to read so that she can move as far away from the possibility of life as a field slave. Suzette’s account of life as a slave – the constant fear that her family could be separated in the name of business as well as the inability to refuse the men who owned her – is poignant. She grows from a girl to a woman and passes the narrative onto her daughter, Philomene. Philomene is a force of nature tbh, determined, ruthless and armed with a mind as sharp as knives. I loved her. She is also born into slavery but the Civil War comes to Louisiana during her and her mother’s lifetimes, and through Philomene we are given a rich description of wartime on the plantations and, with the end of the Civil War, the freedom experienced by Philomene as well as every other former slave in the South. Emily is the first free woman born in her family and she lives a life free from the fear of slavery, marrying a white man and giving birth to children who will never be considered as property in the eyes of the law ever again. Each of these women experience an extraordinary amount of suffering but their strength and determination to make a better life for their family sees them through. The strong bond between these women is the backbone of this novel.
Tademy’s prose is simple but vivid; she writes with simplicity but still brings to life the world her characters are living in. It was a trip reading this book because I fell so deep into the writing that I could actually smell the food she was describing and feel the hot Louisiana sunshine, only to look up and see England outside my window. The historical aspect was also fascinating as was the commentary on society and culture during the colonial era.
Definitely worthy of a four-star rating and a place on my bookshelves forever.