Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen (Bird)

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen 
Sarah Bird, 2018
St. Matin's Press
416 pp.

The compelling, hidden story of Cathy Williams, a former slave and the only woman to ever serve with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.

"Here’s the first thing you need to know about Miss Cathy Williams: I am the daughter of a daughter of a queen and my mama never let me forget it."

Though born into bondage on a "miserable tobacco farm" in Little Dixie, Missouri, Cathy Williams was never allowed to consider herself a slave. According to her mother, she was a captive, destined by her noble warrior blood to escape the enemy.

Her chance at freedom presents itself with the arrival of Union general Phillip Henry "Smash ‘em Up" Sheridan, the outcast of West Point who takes the rawboned, prideful young woman into service.

At war’s end, having tasted freedom, Cathy refuses to return to servitude and makes the monumental decision to disguise herself as a man and join the Army’s legendary Buffalo Soldiers.

Alone now in the ultimate man’s world, Cathy must fight not only for her survival and freedom, but she also vows to never give up on finding her mother, her little sister, and the love of the only man strong enough to win her heart.

Inspired by the stunning, true story of Private Williams, this American heroine comes to vivid life in a sweeping and magnificent tale about one woman’s fight for freedom, respect and independence.  (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Aka—Tory Cates
Where—Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Education—B.A., University of New Mexico; M.A., University of Texas-Austin
Awards—Texas Literary Hall of Fame; Texas Writer of the Year
Currently—lives in Austin, Texas

Sarah Bird is a screenwriter and the author of some 10 books, most recently, the 2018 historical novel, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen. Her previous novel, Above the East China Sea (2014) was long-listed for the Dublin International Literary Award.

Although born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Bird's was an air force family, so she and her five siblings moved frequently around the U.S. and overseas to countries including Japan, France, Spain, and the Yucatan Peninsula. A number of her works draw on that part of her life, specifically The Yakoto Officer's Club (2001) and The East China Sea (2014).

Bird attended the University of New Mexico, earning a B.A., and then headed to the University of Texas for her M.A.

In the mid-1980s, Bird co-founded Austin's Third Coast magazine, where she was a contributing editor and feature/humor writer. It was also at this time that Bird she turned to writing fiction: from 1983-1991 she released four novels. An eight-year hiatus followed until 1999, when she began releasing novels every two to four years up to the present. (Bird has also written several Western romances under the pen name Tory Cates.)

Part of Bird's novel writing hiatus was due to the 10 years she spent as a screenwriter for Paramount, CBS, Warner Bros, National Geographic, ABC, TNT, and independent producers. She wrote the screenplay for the 1990 film Don't Tell Her It's Me (starring Shelley Long and Steve Guttenberg), a film based on her own 1989 novel, The Boyfriend School.

In all, Bird turned out a dozen or so film and television scripts—some making it into projects, some not. A real coup, however, came in 2015 when she was selected for the Meryl Streep/Oprah Winfrey Screenwriters’ Lab.

Bird was also chosen for the B&N Discover Great Writers program, NPR's Moth Radio series, the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, and New York Libraries Books to Remember list.

Bird is married. She lives with her husband and their son in Austin, Texas. (Adapted from various online sources. Retrieved 10/16/2018.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review) [A] rich historical novel…. Bird’s fast-paced, action-packed story is a bittersweet one—grand love and legacy ultimately eluded Williams—but this fearless, often heartbreaking account sheds a welcome light on an extraordinary American warrior.
Publishers Weekly

[T]his novel wraps a fictional narrative around the real-life Cathy Williams, the only woman, disguised as a man, to serve with the Buffalo Soldiers following the Civil War.… [A] not-to-be-missed read for fans of historical military fiction and strong female protagonists. —Wendy W. Paige, Shelby Cty. P.L., Morristown, IN
Library Journal

Bird’s meaty epic provides abundant, intimate details about Cathy’s life as a Buffalo Soldier…. "If you don’t push, you never move ahead," she notes, determining never to be unfree again. An admiring novel about a groundbreaking, mentally tough woman.

Bird conveys with epic sweep how Williams’s origins as the granddaughter of an African queen buttressed her strength and verve, whether on the frontlines fighting for westward expansion or, more personally, in the joys and heartbreak of life as an iconoclastic, irrepressible American hero.
National Book Review

[T]he travails of this woman-pretending-to-be-a-man echo across the centuries. Rapturously imagined and shamelessly entertaining.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. "Royal blood runs purple through my veins. And I am talking real Africa blood. Not that tea-water queens over in  England have to make due with. My royal blood comes from my grandmother, my Iyaiya, as we call her in For, our secret Africa language" (3).

Discuss Cathy Williams lineage and how she sees herself through the lens of her family’s history and culture. Do you or could you imagine carrying such a sense of self possession or having such a destiny to chase?

2. "Burn every grain of Rebel wheat and every kernel of Rebel corn! Burn it to the ground! I want the crows flying  head to have to carry their own rations!" (5)

This is one visceral, violent snap shot of the Civil  War and the "total war" style of fighting brought to the battlefield. Did you feel that the more raw, honest writing brought you to the front lines, and into the historical period? Was it an easy leap for you to make?

3. Were you surprised by any realities of a soldier’s life in this era? The sheer inexperience of the young recruits ("strawfoot, hayfoot")? Did you get a strong sense of how an army shapes up together?

4. How do Cathy’s fellow cooks help her integrate into their camp? Are they sympathetic or mostly apathetic to her plight? How does she bond with Solomon?

5. "But I was Mama’s Africa child and if I let the water fall from my eye those tears would of washed away the strength and magic and power Mama had cut into me. Then I’d be like everybody else: A slave not a captive" (21).

What is the distinction Cathy makes between being a slave and being a captive? How does this difference shape the way she resists and persists?

6. "How I wished I could of told those stories in our secret queen language that we spoke when there were no whites about. Iyaiya and Mama and me could paint curlicues, do backward flips, and run across rainbows in that limber tongue" (22).

What is Cathy’s native tongue? What ideas or thoughts might only be expressed in her innermost language? If you are multilingual, are there words or ideas that you find are best kept in your native language? What are they?

7. Why are Clemmie and Cathy both motivated to go West, even if they are following vastly different paths and troops to get there? Is one mode riskier than the other? In what ways?

8. "The woman’s body I was hiding was like an old friend I missed more than I could say.… I whispered to my hidden self and told her she was my twin, my sister, my secret strength"(170).

When does Cathy decide she is going to pose as a male soldier? How does she keep up the act and disguise her female characteristics and hygiene needs? What is at stake if her cover is blown? Do you think you could have had the same level of endurance?

9. "When I spoke, my own words startled me for they came out of a place deeper inside of me than I even knew was there" (129).

How does Iyaiya color the story, even though she never appears physically in the book? What mark has she left on her ancestors, especially on Cathy?

10. "Oh, I was still plenty afraid, but I’d demoted fear to just another condition you have to work around" (87).

What dangers—societal, environmental, physical, emotional—does Cathy face along her journey? Yet how does Cathy embody fearlessness? Where does her battle acumen and ferocious instincts come from?

11. Did you find any of the villains or more unsavory characters of the novel, like Dupree or Vickers, somewhat sympathetic? Who and what actions could you understand the motivations for in a time of war? How does Cathy get her revenge on Vickers for his cruelty?

12. "He tended to me gentle as a mama to her babe" (202).

How does Lem and Cathy’s relationship grow and what do they come to mean for each other? How is Lem’s compassion expressed?

13. What power lies in names? What does "CathyWilliams" come to mean? Or "William Cathy," "Wager Swayne," or "Sergeant Allbright"? Do you believe Wager was afraid to answer Cathy’s first cries of his name?

14. Is it hard to imagine this juncture in history where the West is perceived as a pure and free place to chase one’s destiny? What does Cathy find waiting for her out West? Does it fulfill its promises to her?

15. How might we honor women lost to history with stories like Cathy’s, for their service and sacrifice? In what ways was she a (literal) trailblazer?

16. How did you react when Wager and Cathy at last reunited? How does this union create danger and uncertainty for Cathy? Is the risk worth everything they have both suffered for?

17. "John Horse had the same iron in his soul that was never going to be bent nor beaten into another shape" (223).

Discuss the significance of the meeting with the Black Seminole tribe, John Horse, and key cavalry members. Are their plights not so dissimilar? How are the tribes and the calvary unit both mistreated by the white military leaders, government officials, and settlers? Also, discuss the perception of Native Americans at this juncture in history. How do field reports and graphic storytelling effect policy or the treatment of the tribes?

18. Did you think Cathy’s great mentor General Sheridan betrayed her at the medal ceremony? What did you expect to come from the up-close interaction? Does he redeem himself ultimately? Why do you think Cathy still regards him with tenderness and respect?

19. What did you take away from this book? What surprised you? What were the toughest scenes for you to read, or the most emotionally gratifying?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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