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Cane River (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – April 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Lalita Tademy's riveting family saga chronicles four generations of women born into slavery along the Cane River in Louisiana. It is also a tale about the blurring of racial boundaries: great-grandmother Elisabeth notices an unmistakable "bleaching of the line" as first her daughter Suzette, then her granddaughter Philomene, and finally her great-granddaughter Emily choose (or are forcibly persuaded) to bear the illegitimate offspring of the area's white French planters. In many cases these children are loved by their fathers, and their paternity is widely acknowledged. However, neither state law nor local custom allows them to inherit wealth or property, a fact that gives Cane River much of its narrative drive.

The author makes it clear exactly where these prohibitions came from. Plantation society was rigidly hierarchical, after all, particularly on the heels of the Civil War and the economic hardships that came with Reconstruction. The only permissible path upward for hard-working, ambitious African Americans was indirect. A meteoric rise, or too obvious an appearance of prosperity, would be swiftly punished. To enable the slow but steady advance of their clan, the black women of Cane River plot, plead, deceive, and manipulate their way through history, extracting crucial gifts of money and property along the way. In the wake of a visit from the 1880 census taker, the aged Elisabeth reflects on how far they had come.

When the census taker looked at them, he saw colored first, asking questions like single or married, trying to introduce shame where there was none. He took what he saw and foolishly put those things down on a list for others to study. Could he even understand the pride in being able to say that Emily could read and write? They could ask whatever they wanted, but what he should have been marking in the book was family, and landholder, and educated, each generation gathering momentum, adding something special to the brew.
In her introduction, Tademy explains that as a young woman, she failed to appreciate the love and reverence with which her mother and her four uncles spoke of their lively Grandma 'Tite (short for "Mademoiselle Petite"). She resented her great-grandmother's skin-color biases, which were as much a part of Tademy's memory as were her great-grandmother's trademark dance moves. But the old stories haunted the author, and armed with a couple of pages of history compiled by a distant Louisiana cousin, she began to piece together a genealogy. The result? Tademy eventually left her position as vice president of a Fortune 500 company and set to work on Cane River, in which she has deftly and movingly reconstructed the world of her ancestors. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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. Simultaneous release with the Warner hardcover (Forecasts, Mar. 12).

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (April 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446678457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446678452
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (584 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #736,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

LALITA TADEMY is a former vice-president of Sun Microsystems who left the corporate world to immerse herself in tracing her family's history and writing her first book, CANE RIVER.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

186 of 193 people found the following review helpful By Ladyslott VINE VOICE on June 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
I do not generally like Oprah Books. So when Cane River was chosen as a group read for my reading group, I was very reluctant to read it. I could not have been more wrong. A beautifully written family saga, Cane River was one of the best books I have read in recent years. Putting one strongly in mind of the book Roots by Alex Haley, this book is a novelization of the family history of Lalita Tademy. Told through the eyes of four women, all born into slavery, it shows the strength and courage of people who survive through the frequent upheavals thrust upon them.
We are introduced to the matriarch of the family Elisabeth, a slave from Virginia sold into a new plantation and taken from her husband and children. Here begins the story of the Cane River women, Suzette, Philomene and Emily. I was compelled to read every detail of their lives from slavery to freedom. I shared their heartbreak, joy, suffering and triumph, on the journey to freedom. The book paints a long lasting impression of the power of love and family. A book I will think of for a long time to come. I highly recommend you read this unforgettable book.
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70 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Marilyn C. Smith on July 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I don't know if anyone could read this book and NOT feel somehow changed by it.
Although written as fiction, the documents, family histories and pictures give not-so-silent tribute to this REAL family, and their very real experiences. I found myself pouring over the pictures, flipping back frequently to put a face with a name, and thinking the whole time "It's like Lalita Tademy sat down and talked with her ancestors!"
I would love to see this book hit the "required reading" lists of high schools. It's a lesson in so many things, not the least of which is the author's tenacious search for details, documentation and something else...something hard to define...but it's almost like she slipped into a time machine and brought back the past for us. I can't wait for her next book! I feel like I've learned a more valuable lesson than any text book could have taught. I learned instead from Elisabeth, Philomene, and Emily.
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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Sandra Mitchell on September 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Cane River is a novel that will give the reader so many different reasons to appreciate it. As with several of Oprah's picks, this is not one I probably would have pulled off the shelf on my own, but I'm so glad that I read it. Part of what makes this novel so special is that Lalita Tademy, who was a successful career woman at Sun Microsystems, gave up her high paying salary to research her geneaology. After tracing her family's history, and gathering as many photos and facts as she could, she wove the pieces together into this historical work of fiction creating Cane River. Similar to so many previous stories of slavery, reading this will make you ashamed at the history of our country and saddened at how these lives were torn apart and abused through slave trading & treatment. But what is most powerful in the story is the strength of these three generations of women-Suzette, Philomene & Emily; how they overcame adversity and pain and kept fighting for each new generation to live a better life, despite their own sadness. This novel explores each of these inspiring ladies lives, the men in their lives & their families. It explores issues such as racism, both white vs. black as well as racism within the black community (light coloring vs. dark coloring). It examines the consequences of inter-racial relationship as well as how slaves were handled and treated. How can a person own a slave, but in some way feel the slave is part of the family? One can't help but feel how simple our lives are today compared with all of the hardships these women faced. The sacrifices that family will make for one another is truly remarkable. Tademy did a fantastic job in recreating her family's history and sewing it into an incredible story.
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By The Reading Cove Book Club on November 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
"CANE RIVER is the setting for the life and death of Elizabeth, who begot Suzette, who begot Philomene, who begot, Emily. Four women that lived during different times, but had to fight and endure in the same struggle - the struggle to live without the freedom to do so freely, the struggle of being owned by other human beings.

Elizabeth prepared a foundation for a standard of living that was molded and built upon by her daughter Suzette, harnessed and secured by her granddaughter Philomene, so that her great-granddaughter Emily could stand taller than those before her could ever dream.

The journey from Elizabeth to Emily is one that leaves the reader with an appreciation for humanity like never before. Their daily struggles will enlighten you, the many injustices visited upon them by white people will anger you, and their perseverance will inspire you. This journey along CANE RIVER is arguably one of the best reads of the 20th century!
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By MLPlayfair on August 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a totally engrossing read. The author uses beautiful phrases, esp. in her descriptions of people. I experienced a remarkable feeling each time I became emotionally invested in a character and then realized/remembered that these weren't just characters, but REAL people who actually existed! There's an amazing insight here into the simple unfairness, ugliness, and sadness that comes from people's belief in race, invented solely to separate us and to make one group feel superior to another for no decent reason. It's also a lovely and respectful story of women. This side of the master/slave relationship has barely been looked at before. (I hope those silly and hurtful stories of how Sally Hemmings the slave "loved" her master Thomas Jefferson will stop soon!) And the way the same treatment was maintained for decades, not allowing unsanctioned marriages and keeping children from inheritance -- how cruel and unfair. The photos include beautiful faces full of strength, and they have a magical quality in bringing the characters to life. There are a few loose ends not followed and a couple of confusing moments, as well as leaps in time or action. But this is a huge undertaking, and I think these can be forgiven. It's obvious that the author is writing lovingly about the people who were a part of her. She can be very proud. I'm recommending this to everyone I know.
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