Customer Reviews: Cane River (Oprah's Book Club)
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VINE VOICEon June 18, 2002
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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on July 16, 2001
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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on September 26, 2001
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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on November 10, 2002
"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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on July 9, 2001
I will be the first to admit I know nothing of what it is like to be of African heritage or to grow up in America, since I fall into neither catagory. It was my quest to learn more of other people's cultures and traditions that prompted me to read this book and I was not disappointed. If each of us is to live in peace and harmony it is important to understand, first of all, where we came from in order to have a clearly set plan as to where we are going.
The trials and tribulations set out in "Cane River" are enough to make one forever thankful they were born in the current generation and not in an earlier one. Freedom is by far the greatest human right we have. To be born into slavery with the humiliation, degradation, poverty and dehumanizing conditions that went with it are almost unthinkable in today's society, although it still exists to a certain degree (legal or illegal) in parts of the world today.
"Cane River" spans four generations and through the eyes of Lalita Tademy, we are able to trace the stories of four women and witness how their lives are interwoven. We read with anticipation how Elisabeth, Suzette,Philomeme and Emily build their lives in a time few people who live today can truly understand. Lalita Tademy has written an extremely emotional and poignant saga of an era they is portrayed today through books and film. As a person who is "white", though not American, it absolutely appals me that my "white ancestors," regardless of what country they came from, could treat any human being as a slave and force them to live a life as portrayed in this book. However, the Holocaust, is also equally as horrendous and beyond comprehension, too - but it happened!
Our history and our heritage are very important. Hopefully, we will learn from the past and the sacrifices our ancestors made so that the attrocities of the past will never again happen. The greatest affirmation I gained from this book was the fact we all have our challenges and obstacles to bear, but we are, also, all children of the universe to be loved and respected. This is definitely a well-written, emotionally charged book and highly recommended.
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on November 2, 2002
I read this book in no time flat! The research the author did must have been tremendous. Tademy brought these women to life, and of course she had never met them. What a gift to give her family by honouring them in their past.
I live in Canada and slavery is not as large a part of our history as what it has been in the US. (although it did exist) In school, we really never learned about this sad part of history and my sources have only been in movies and TV. This book brought slavery and its tragedy to life. What it must have been like to have your family sold off and seperated. I cannot imagine it, yet Tademy documents it and you know it happened and it was real.
You will love Elisabeth, Suzette, Philomene and Emily; four generatations of strong women to admire and cry with. This book was a wonderful read, and worth 5 stars.
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on August 22, 2001
We've all seen Roots, learned the schoolbook history of slavery, but this work is beautifully detailed and powerful in its description of the grinding day-to-day effects slavery had on individuals. It fleshes out the psychological injuries of slavery on individuals as well as the intricately woven interplay between the generations before and after emancipation. Lalita Tademy brings her ancestors and history to life so artfully one would not believe she was not a novelist. I am so grateful she chose to share her personal mementos and genealogy with the world. With kindness and honesty, she examines the inner motivations, yearnings and sorrows of slaves and planters, children and grandparents. This book should be required reading, and it has lasting significance in understanding modern race politics in America. Thank you so much, Ms. Tademy!
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on June 22, 2001
It is hard to believe that this is Lalita Tademy's first book. She is an excellent author and I stayed captivated with her book from beginning to end. I hated for the book to end, but after reading it, I have a new respect for African-Americans and Creoles. It is so hard to imagine a time in America's history when people were treated so harshly yet came out of their circumstances so strong. Ms. Tademy is blessed to have such a heritage in her family and to be able to trace it like she has. I highly recommend this book for the novel that it is but also for the history. It will keep you enthralled through the characters and their strength and courage. Thank you Ms. Tademy for sharing your family with us.
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on August 19, 2001
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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on July 15, 2001
I've been hesitant to buy a book "endorsed" by Oprah, because they all have seemed so dark, solemn and depressing. However, this book hooked me and dragged me in, and I can't praise it highly enough. It's an uplifting story of generations of strong women, each of whom chooses a path that seems to provide greater strength for the daughters yet to come. Do yourself a favor, and buy this book. Then find a quiet chair in a corner and immerse yourself in the power of determination, courage and strength. You'll think about these women long after you've closed the book......and isn't that why we love to read in the first place?
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