Cane River (Tademy)

Book Reviews
A long-overdue response to Alex Haley's is about the way the past haunts the emotions and politics of the everyday and about the quiet unmapped stories that make up history.
San Francisco Chronicle

Will haunt you long after you've shared their stories if suffering, abuse, with fascinating detail...powerful in its story-telling...a journey well worth taking.
San Jose Mercury

(Audio version.) Like the river of its title, Tademy's saga of strong-willed black women flows from one generation to the next, from slavery to freedom. Elisabeth is a slave on a Creole plantation, as is her daughter, Suzette. The family, based on Tademy's own ancestors, wins freedom after the Civil War, but Suzette's daughter, Philomene, must struggle to keep her family together and to achieve financial independence. The melodious, expressive voices of narrators Belafonte and Payton are a pleasure to listen to, while Moore's tougher, grittier tone conveys the hardships faced by the family. However, Belafonte and Payton sometimes ignore vocal directions provided by the novel. For example, Payton reads one passage in a whisper even though the text says "in her excitement, Philomene's voice rose... louder and louder." The complex, multigenerational tale suffers somewhat in abridgment: at times the narrative too abruptly jumps ahead by decades and some emotional situations are given short shrift, as when Philomene discovers that her daughter Bette, whom she was told died as a baby nearly 20 years earlier, is actually alive and living nearby. Still, the audio succeeds in evoking the struggles of black women to provide better lives for their children despite all odds.
Publishers Weekly

Tademy halted a career as a high-powered technology executive to research her family's history. Her findings--four generations of strong-willed black women who survived slavery and racial injustices, maintained strong family ties, and left a legacy of faith and accomplishment—are transformed here into a powerful historical novel.... [A] fascinating account of American slavery and race-mixing should enthrall readers who love historical fiction. Vanessa Bush

A selection of Oprah's Book Club, this fictionalized family history, telling of four generations of slave women living on Cane River in Louisiana from 1834 until the early 20th century, tells a larger story of how the lives of white people and black people were enmeshed during those times. The author created this novel after immersing herself in her own family's history. She includes actual photographs of her family members who became characters in the novel, pictures of documents, gravestones, and news articles—every scrap of which adds enormously to the power of this work. Tademy sticks closely to actual facts but because she creates dialogue and has to flesh out the characters, she is careful to call the work fiction. White and black people lived together, worked together, had children together —but not as equals. The slaves had little choice. In this family, Elizabeth had come to Louisiana, sold from a plantation in Virginia, where she had two babies as a result of her white master's sexual advances. She had no choice, of course, but to leave those babies behind in Virginia. Her grief and that experience are repeated again and again as she helps her daughters and granddaughters face their own life circumstances. Her daughter Suzette barely reaches puberty when she is impregnated by a visiting Frenchman. Suzette's daughter Philomene (half white) has a fulfilling "marriage" with another slave, but he is sold away so that Philomene can become the mistress of the owner. Philomene's daughter Emily (white except for one black grandmother) is pampered by her white father. After the Civil War, she is educated, and once grown, has what essentially is a long marriage to a white Frenchlandowner. The marriage isn't legal, because miscegenation is a crime, but a home and many children are part of Emily's experience. Oddly enough, those relationships that were taken as a matter of course during slavery, in the Jim Crow South became a moral outrage to the white citizens. Eventually Emily's happiness is destroyed because of this threat—literally, her children and home are endangered if she continues to live openly with a white man. This novel will interest all those who enjoy family histories. The women are tough and loving—they face impossible situations with courage and intelligence. Their priorities are to keep their families as intact as possible, and to manipulate white people as much as they can for this purpose. The very fact that the author is part of this long history adds to its great appeal. And the actual family photographs and documented history add a great deal to the narrative. Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults.

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