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Red River Hardcover – January 3, 2007

95 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

When Cane River was published in 2001, Lalita Tademy established herself as the chronicler of her own family's life, since their arrival here as slaves in the 1800s. Mixing family history, fiction, and fact made the story rich and unforgettable enough that Cane River became an Oprah's Book Club®. Now, with Red River, Tademy has done it again. Writing is a second career for Tademy, who is a former vice-president of Sun Microsystems. She left the corporate world to immerse herself in her family's history--and the history of the south.

In 1873 in the small southern town of Colfax, Louisiana, history tells us there was a riot. The Tademy family knows different. "1873. Wasn't no riot like they say. It was a massacre..." The blacks are newly free, just beginning life under Reconstruction, with all its promises of equity, the right to vote, to own property and, most importantly, to decide their own future as individuals. Federal Government troops are supposed to arrive to protect the rights of the colored people--but they are not yet on the scene.

In one wretched day, white supremacists destroy all the optimism and bright promise by taking Colfax back in an ugly and violent manner. The tragedy begins with the two sides: the white Democrats of Montgomery and the colored and white Republicans of Colfax in the courthouse, finally meeting face to face to discuss their differences. Then, a group of white thugs kills a colored man who was not involved in the courthouse struggle. He was home minding his business and the ugliness came and found him.

The confrontation that follows results in the death of more than 100 black men, killed by white supremacists bent on denying them their voting rights and keeping in office those who uphold the status quo prior to the Civil War. The massacre is only the beginning of Tademy's story. Using reliable sources wherever they may be found, she tells the hard and proud story of Sam Tademy, Israel Smith and their families as they fight their way back from the massacre. They get a foothold in Colfax, finally starting a school, owning land and businesses and becoming full-fledged citizens, as they were meant to be.

Tademy tells part of our history that we would like to forget; she also tells the story of her family, which is a story worth remembering. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Four generations of African-American Southerners claw their way up from the ruins of Reconstruction in this engrossing family saga by the author of the bestselling Cane River. Tademy begins with a harrowing recreation of the notorious 1873 massacre at Colfax, La., where 150 blacks, gathered in defense of local Republican officials—and their own citizenship—were killed by white supremacists. Her narrative continues into the 1930s with a fictionalized chronicle of her forebears in the Tademy and Smith clans as they struggle against poverty, buy land and pursue their dream of starting a school for African-American children, their progress challenged by floods, hunting accidents and the Ku Klux Klan. It's an unabashed story of racial uplift (sample dialogue: " 'We getting old, and it up to us to move the race forward'"), but there's plenty of drama and grit to keep it from becoming cloying. Through her characters, the author paints an indelible portrait of rural life under Jim Crow, built around backbreaking farm labor, blood ties that bind and chafe, and the omnipresent fear of a capricious white racism that can undo in a moment the work of a lifetime. Combining family anecdotes with historical research and a rich imagination, Tademy crafts another American epic. Photos. (Jan. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition edition (January 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446578983
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446578981
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #730,530 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Pretty Brown Girl VINE VOICE on January 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Bestselling author, Lalita Tademy, returns to a familiar subject in her family history and sheds light on a dark incident during the Reconstruction period in the antebellum South. Her latest novel, Red River, focuses on the atrocities that occurred April 13, 1873 in Colfax, Louisiana. Many of those affected were ex-slaves who were the overwhelming majority in an area nestled among former plantations and rich farmland. After a lifetime of servitude, these newly freed men exercised their right to vote and ousted the long seated bigoted Democratic county sheriff and judge. They embraced their recently bestowed voting rights and elected residents who either sympathized with their plight (scalawags) or those who had recently located to the area from the North (carpetbaggers) after the Civil War. The election results did not sit well with local white supremacists who chose not to recognize the newly elected officials. When their calls to the governor to uphold the election results went unanswered, the freedmen stood up for their rights only to be shot down at the Colfax courthouse waiting for federal assistance that never came. The end result was the death of three white men and a mass murder of over a hundred African Americans, most of whom were lynched after they had surrendered. No one has ever been held accountable for their deaths.

Despite the carnage and the encroaching epoch of Jim Crow, Tademy illustrates that her family's dream did not perish that day. Their vision, determination, and resourcefulness to educate the area's Negro children held fast despite the violent threats and racial hostility. Their family values for education, self-reliance, and self-respect were instilled in each generation and survives in modern day.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Pushed 60 on April 5, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The fictional recounting of the historic events of 1873 that provide the basis for the novel was great. The reader felt very much a part of the scenes around the Colfax court house. Once that scene passed, the book droned on for hundreds of pages with little stories about various family members to the point of utter boredom. I was waiting for a riveting ending but it just abruptly ended. Big disappointment, for sure.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John C. Wiegard VINE VOICE on January 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The first half of Red River contains alot of horror, brutality, and despair. I would not recommend it for pre-teens. It is a true story of how the hopes of Reconstruction yielded to the realities of white supremacy in Louisiana in the "Jim Crow" period of 1873 on.

But the second half of the book tells a more hopeful story of how the black community around Colfax, LA clawed its way out of despair through hard work and education. Lalita Tademy writes with passion, and she uses real events and the history of her own family to add impact. This is a good novel, probably better than Cane River, her first book. While Tademy is not yet a brilliant literary stylist, she tells an important story in a dramatic and effective way. It is worth reading.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on January 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Family histories can provide fabulous stories, even those where ancestors are not famous. It is often the simple stories of simple folk that highlight the true hardships and struggles to endure and make their successes, however minor, seem phenomenally marvelous. In-depth looks at hardship life illustrate two things: not everyone has it so easy in life, and you probably don't have it as hard. James Agee did it masterfully in his book LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN. Now, Lalita Tademy follows up the success of her debut CANE RIVER with a book, if one can imagine, that is even better.

RED RIVER is the continuing story of the Tademy family and their road from slave life to freedom. It is narrated by Polly, Tademy's great-great-grandmother, and within the first few pages you instantly begin to understand the depth of investigative work that Tademy had to undertake in order to bring this story to the world.

Beginning in the small Louisiana town of Colfax, there is still trouble and hatred between white and black. The Civil War is nearly 10 years gone, and the freedoms afforded the freed slaves is not sitting well with white politicians and residents. On April 13, 1873, Colfax would be rocked by a riot that was really more a massacre, as white militia opened fire on them at the courthouse. Present in that scene were Israel Smith and Sam Tademy. Following the brutal murders of over 100 black men, the repercussions of the long-forgotten riot ripple through the south and threaten the very freedoms afforded the freedmen.

From 1873 to 1937, RED RIVER outlines the survival of the Tademy and Smith families, of Sam's creation of colored schools in Colfax, of the horror of living in Reconstruction-era southern America and the threat of death at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on February 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
RED RIVER is a fictional account of the Easter Sunday 1873 Massacre in Colfax, Louisiana. As the story begins, a newly elected Republican government, elected largely because of the vote of black men vested with voting rights for the first time, is struggling to take office against the incumbent Democratic government. Though assistance from federal troops is expected, the black men of Colfax, Louisiana, voluntarily provide protection to the new officials during the first days of the new term. Sam Tademy, Israel Smith and Isaac "McCully" McCullen join with hundreds of other black men in the fight to protect and secure the new government.

Unfortunately, the incumbents are unwilling to allow the new government to continue in office. Though Reconstruction allowed black men the right to vote and granted them equal rights, many whites are resistant to such changes endorsed by the federal government. These whites vow to keep the black people in their place. Groups such as the White League and the Ku Klux Klan oppose the newly elected officials and vow to return the status quo of the pre-Reconstruction era to this small, Southern town. During the Easter Sunday face-off between the two groups, the incumbent officials and their white supporters massacred more than a hundred black men. In the aftermath of the massacre, the lives of hundreds of families are forever changed; husbands, fathers and brothers have been cruelly taken away, and the survivors are forced to eek out a living in the racially charged town, of which the incumbent government regains control. No one dares to speak of the massacre and the black people of Colfax conduct their daily affairs, careful not to interact with whites unless absolutely necessary.
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