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Isle of Canes Paperback – April 1, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 585 pages
  • Publisher: Ancestry.com; 1ST edition (April 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593311753
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593311759
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,947,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A masterpiece. You may never look at American history the same way again" -- Historical Novels Review

"Mills is a master story teller, bringing to vivid life untold pieces of our country’s hsitory." -- Lalita Tademy, author of New York Time Best Seller Cane River, an Oprah's Book Club Selection

From the Publisher

A Conversation with Elizabeth Shown Mills about her new book Isle of Canes: Q: What is this book about? MILLS: Isle of Canes is a story of multiracial America and its historic struggle to make a place for itself in a world that has insisted one must be either black or white. It is a story of personal conflict between a slave’s hunger for freedom and the freedman’s struggle for survival in a slave regime. It’s a story of the cultural clash between the Latin and Anglo South over the issues of race and civil rights for those who were free but not white. It’s a story of sexual and emotional dynamics that transcend race. Above all, it is the story of family, and how pride in one’s roots can sustain generations of people through all adversities. Q: What role did genealogy play in the creation of this novel? MILLS: Truly, it provided the bones, flesh, heart, mind, and soul for all the Islanders whose story it tells. Genealogy is history up close and personal. When we personalize history, we make it real. Studying the individual lives of people, as I’ve done with the Islanders for the past thirty-five years, gives us a much clearer window through which to see the world. It shows us, starkly, the human costs of decisions made by politicians and generals, and it leaves us with a much truer understanding of why our society is the way it is. Q: What compelled you to write this book? MILLS: Ah, what writer can resist when a story cries to be told! The life that existed for Louisiana’s Creoles of color is a chapter of America’s past that few people have seen or heard. In part, it has been simply neglected amid our country’s traditional emphasis on Anglo-Protestant roots. In part, it has been purposefully ignored because it raises issues we, as a nation, are uncomfortable with. On matters of slavery and race, we favor stereotypes—we grasp for black and white answers—because those are easier to deal with than shades of gray. But the life that once existed on Cane River’s Isle goes way beyond the gray-scale. The Islanders’ story paints the complexities of human life in glorious Technicolor that is both painful and inspiring. Q: How did you discover this story? MILLS: As a young wife and mother, I went to Louisiana’s Cane River in search of my children’s roots. As my study of the region became known, the local preservation society asked me to conduct a historical-site documentation project. It had been given a plantation home and estate grounds that it hoped to place on the National Register. In the end, the story that emerged was so fantastic the site was declared a National Historic Landmark. In peeling away layers of lore and controversy, we discovered that the home, known as Melrose, was only one of a dozen or more mansion houses that once graced the Isle and that the land on which Melrose stood was part of a plantation empire of 18,000 acres founded by a family of freed slaves under the more-tolerant culture of French and Spanish Louisiana. Q: What is the relationship between fact and fiction in your novel? MILLS: Faction is the best word to describe the Isle of Canes. The story is drawn from thousands of documents unearthed in archives from Canada to Cuba to Mexico to France to Spain—research I personally conducted, individually and together with my late husband, a historian also. What’s more, the sheer size of the family—a cast of over a thousand in its first century and a half—offers a fantastic pool from which to draw the most representative characters in each generation. Yet no amount of records could ever chronicle all the intimate details of an individual life, and a storyteller must color in the blanks left by the written record. Because I’ve spent thirty-five years studying not just the Islanders but all the families with whom they lived, loved, labored, and sometimes feuded, I am confident I have painted my backdrops and clothed my characters as faithfully as a storyteller possibly could. Q. What do you hope your readers will take with them after they finish Isle of Canes? MILLS: That everyone deserves a chance to live up to their potential. That people are individuals and no one deserves to have labels forced upon them. That life’s choices have always been far more complicated than we assume from the stereotyped portrayals of history and that the past cannot fairly be measured by modern ideals. Above all, that family is the bedrock upon which all societies are built and that family should be—and can be—the haven that nurtures each new generation.

More About the Author

Elizabeth Shown Mills is an internationally acclaimed historical researcher and writer who has spent her life studying American culture and the relationships between people--emotional as well as genetic. Featured on BBC, CNN, PBS, and other networks in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, she has guest-blogged for the NEW YORK TIMES and has been widely cited as "the genealogist who has had the most influence in the post-Roots era."

Her 13 prize-winning books range from reference works such as "Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace" (Library Journal 2007 Best Reference) to the historical novel, "Isle of Canes," which chronicles a family of freed slaves across four generations, and is drawn from Mills's own research in the archives of six nations.

Her latest work is the greatly enlarged, revised edition of the Louisiana State University Press classic, THE FORGOTTEN PEOPLE: CANE RIVER'S CREOLES OF COLOR.

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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I've just finished a second reading of the book and it held me again as few other books ever have.
George G. Morgan
I highly recommend this book to those who have any interest in genealogy, history or just enjoy reading the saga of a family.
Allison L. Ryall
The story richly weaves the tensions of slavery, multiracial families, and economic upheaval in the antebellum South.
Richard G. Sayre

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Richard G. Sayre on December 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
A magnificent work. Mills, America's preeminent genealogist, has evolved into a passionate and successful writer of historical fiction. The Isle of Canes deals with the little told story of the Creoles of Louisiana. Mills shares the story of a family, the Metoyers, people of color, as successive generations live and prosper in the unique environment of Spanish and French Louisiana. We see and feel the changes in their lives as the impact of the Civil War comes to the Isle. The story richly weaves the tensions of slavery, multiracial families, and economic upheaval in the antebellum South. This novel is of enduring importance, and will come to be part of the classic literature describing Southern history. If you enjoy a compelling, and entertaining story, based on real families and events, and if you like to be more than entertained i.e. learn something about our history, you will thoroughly enjoy this novel.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By History Buff on August 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
Isle of Canes has been called a cross between Gone with the Wind and

Roots. It's a grand epic to rival both, but it goes far beyond GWTW's

moonlight-and-magnolia image of the South and it explores complexities of

slave life that Roots' ignored. The sexual tension of Isle is more akin to

Monticello's Thomas and Sally than to Tara's Scarlett and Rhett, and the

masters who occupy the "big house" were once slaves themselves. Mills

explores raw and painful sides of America's past, but she has done it with

a grace and style and rhythm and emotion that held me spellbound.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Allison L. Ryall on November 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
I highly recommend this book to those who have any interest in genealogy, history or just enjoy reading the saga of a family. Excellent reading. Very enjoyable. Difficult to put down.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By House on July 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
Behind its idyllic façade, Isle of Canes is a frank and gripping look at issues America has preferred not to deal with-particularly the world of slaveownership by those who once were slaves themselves, its motivation (some would say, necessity), and the conflicts of conscience that lifestyle created. A major underlying theme is the world of sexual servitude, which Isle explores in multiple ways, some of which turn stereotypes on its head. Both issues are presented on a stage history has ignored: the cultural conflict of Creole (French and Spanish Catholic) America versus Anglo-Protestant America in the colonial and antebellum South. Mills brilliantly shows the consequences of the white Creole vs. Anglo conflict upon America's racial history.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
America's leading genealogist is a master of the historical novel, too. This powerfully moving account of many generations of a Southern family is a true story of real people. It unfolds with all the drama necessary for a Hollywood script, yet it's based on fact. Just as Thomas Jefferson, author of our most powerful document of freedom, owned African slaves and had a child with his Sally, Coincoin demonstrates to readers that former slaves sometimes went on to own slaves of their own. "Canes" has all the compelling detail found in books like "Roots," and "Gone With The Wind," yet never compromises its accuracy. A tremendous read.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By "juliemarie2" on June 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Isle of Canes" captured my interest from the start. The story weaves its way through four generations and tells the tale of a proud heritage. I cried through much of the book, but it is well worth the tears. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Janet M. on October 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a very well written and researched book. The story flowed from one generation to the next and I did not want it to end. If southern historical novels are your forte, I think you will be more than satisfied! It will join my list of books to reread!!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By George G. Morgan on February 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Isle of Canes" is a brilliantly told story of multiple generations of a multi-racial Louisiana family. I've just finished a second reading of the book and it held me again as few other books ever have.
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