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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tragic Tale of Human Nature, April 5, 2002
By 
This review is from: River Woman: A Novel (Hardcover)
This book has an unexplainable quality that gives it the aura of a dream. Even though the story is sad from beginning to end, I found myself not being able to put the book down. As you read, the story clarifies itself in a way that makes you realize that the book is not only about the death of a child, but about how people use the tragedy of others to serve their own purposes. This is a very thought provoking work that will leave you stunned as Hamans refuses to give us the "just" ending we wish for throughout.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is the Real Thing, January 25, 2002
This review is from: River Woman: A Novel (Hardcover)
I had the opportunity to hear Ms. Hemans read from her work before publication and could hardly wait for this book to be published. This is the sort of book that deserves a wide readership -- a book that is a privilege to read. This is a book about the fundamental issues that make up our lives. A book that makes you look up at the end and see your own world in a whole new way.
The characters in RIVER WOMAN are poignant, heartbreaking, yet rendered with such care and so real to the reader that they will resonate with you long after you close the covers. The writing is wise -- gentle in places -- but ultimately as true to itself as the women are to the story.
This is a book that should have a wide reach. I hope every opportunity is given to RIVER WOMAN and Ms. Hemans to find the readers this book deserves.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Book, January 25, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: River Woman: A Novel (Hardcover)
I heard about this book from a friend. I don't know why it isn't getting more publicity: it's absolutely fabulous! From the stunning first chapter, it's impossible to put this novel down. The author's style is poetic without being pretentious, and she's interested in the serious stuff of life: guilt, loneliness, heartbreak, love.
I'm recommending this one to my book club!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart-felt, June 19, 2002
This review is from: River Woman: A Novel (Hardcover)
Light a candle, pour yourself a cup of tea and curl up in your favorite spot with this provocative novel. Standfast, Jamaica, the small, spineless community in which this story takes place lacks growth and economic development. Soon after an unfortunate mishap, the demoralized people of this community suddenly began to lash out. Unfortunately, the anger of their present condition is misdirected towards Kelithe, a young grieving mother, who wants more out of life than what Standfast has to offer. The plot thickens upon the arrival of Sonya, Kelithe's estranged mother, who has lived many miles away in America. She returns under the disguise of love as she subliminally began to participate in the public attempts to maliciously ruin Kelithe's character. Years of broken promises from mother to daughter test the strength of maternal love in a relationship that was abandoned by 'soon-soon' promises and a new family in America. The author uses many metaphorical themes that may be used to conclude several questions of "why". "Did she or did she not?" "Why did she or why didn't she?" are questions that will continue to probe the readers' thoughts as the pages are turned. River Woman is written with richness and delicacy. This novel has such a rhythm that keeps its pace consistent through out the pages.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Style, February 7, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: River Woman: A Novel (Hardcover)
This novel shows impecable style and gorgeous prose. A pleasure to read. I loved the character development especially of Sonya, who though as a person I didn't really like, loved the way she came to life.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mother's love, June 20, 2002
By 
The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers (RAWSISTAZ.com and BlackBookReviews.net) - See all my reviews
This review is from: River Woman: A Novel (Hardcover)
Kelithe has always longed for the love and acceptance of her mother and she is doubtful that she will ever get it. Sonya, her mother has moved to America and has promised Kelithe for the last 15 years that she would return to Standfast,the small town in Jamaica where she is from, and whisk Kelithe away for a new life. In the meantime Kelithe is left behind to be raised by her grandmother, who holds a lot of contempt for Sonya and the way that she abandoned her child.
Kelithe was once a girl that was filled with hope: she was a good student, she was attending a private and exclusive high school and she had dreams. However, as things go up they must come down. After a romantic encounter with a stranger from America Kelithe finds herself pregnant and scared. She is kicked out of school, and Sonya is forced to return to Jamaica and collect her. Sonya then takes Kelithe back to Standfast to be raised by her grandmother. Sonya is very disappointed and ashamed of her daughter even though she also had a child as a teenager.
About 3 years later Sonya decides that it is time for Kelithe to be a part of her life, on one condition Kelithe must leave Timothy her child and Sonya's grandchild behind. This is a decision that Kelithe struggles with, she does not want to do to Timothy what her mother did to her. Unfortunately something happens that makes the decision a moot point. Little,3 year old Timothy is playing in shallow water at the Rio Minho river where his mother and the other women of Standfast are washing clothes. According to the other women Kelithe stood and watched her child die, and these women and other residents of the town are determined that she will not get away with this heinous act.
River Woman is a heartbreaking and beautiful novel that tears at your emotions. There is outrage and sadness that you feel towards Kelithe and at the same time you feel contempt for the residents of Standfast because they have come to a decision in their minds that she has committed this horrible crime. This book is an outstanding debut by Donna Hemans and has one of the most beautiful covers that I have ever seen. I look forward to reading more of Donna Hemans work.
Reviewed by Simone A. Hawks
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4.0 out of 5 stars Donna Hemans' River Woman, May 16, 2010
By 
Paula E. David (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: River Woman: A Novel (Paperback)
I considered putting this book down. But I persisted. And good things came to me who waited. This is a good novel. Far better than Patricia Powell's "Me Dying Trial" and considerably better than Makeda Silvera's, "The Heart Does Not Bend"; both of which, like "River Woman", examine the dynamics of the relationships between Jamaican mothers who go off to North America to seek their fortunes and the "barrel children" they leave behind.

The plot expands from one central event; the drowning death of 3 year old Timothy. Donna Hemans tells the story through a combination of the first person narrative of Kelithe, Timothy's teenage mother and the heroine of the novel and a third person, far from neutral, narrative. The narrator and Kelithe are on the same side. There is no pretence at sympathy for the characters Kelithe and the third person narrator disapprove of. But the novel does not suffer for this. The telling of the story comes across as events recounted by honest, though not impartial witnesses.

Betrayal is the central theme of the novel: the betrayal of Kelithe; the betrayal of the village of Standfast. It examines the dislocation of barrel children; their estrangement from the mothers who drop out of their lives for almost their entire childhood. The absence of the fathers of barrel children does not appear to be a matter of major concern to the writer (as is the case in "The Heart Does Not Bend" and "Me Dying Trial"). It is almost as though there is an assumption that fathers are absent in any event; that the father role is marginal, unimportant. Mothers, however, are held to account. Kelithe's mother is portrayed as self absorbed, having only the faintest regard for her responsibilities as a mother; the very sin of which the villagers accuse Kelithe.

I was very impressed by the lack of self consciousness which characterized Donna Heman's allusions to Jamaican folklore. I suspect that she deliberately resisted the urge to over explain symbolism which her Jamaican readers would immediately recognize, but which would probably mean nothing to non Jamaican readers. This is a direction in which I hope Caribbean literature will continue to progress. I do not mean to imply that our writers should write purely or even primarily for a home audience; I do believe, however, that much of Caribbean literature suffers from a lack of confidence which, though not unexpected in a literary culture as young as ours, makes some writers seem almost apologetic to their non Caribbean readers for taking them into unknown territory.

The fact that Donna Hemans is a formally trained writer shows. The plot is neatly drawn. There is a place for everything and everything is its place. All in all this is an impressive first novel. I am excited at the prospect of her second.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, November 6, 2006
By 
This review is from: River Woman: A Novel (Paperback)
River Woman was very interesting. At times I thought it was slow moving and it was hard to tell sometimes whom was talking. After a while I wanted to stop reading it because I thought it wasn't moving fast enough but somehow the characters drew me in. I wanted to continue reading to find out if Kelithe allowed her son to drown. This book is very sad just reading about Kelithe's mother did not stand by her or feel like she was her daughter. Her mother Sonya is a hypocrite because she attempted an abortion when she was pregnant with Kelithe. It made me wonder, why couldn't Sonya show her daughter any love? And the reaction of the town was just aweful but this book made me think. This is not a book for entertainment but for thinking and seeing a trajedy from a different perspective.

If someone is interested in a funny and entertaining book this one is not it. This is a riveting book that takes you places where most of us have never been.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Marvelous, August 11, 2005
This review is from: River Woman: A Novel (Paperback)
I loved the story, although very sad. The language is simple, lyrical and beautiful.

The death of Timothy, Kelithe's son highlights the dilemma that every mother could face. I guess society expects mothers to support their children, guilty or not guilty. I have seen mothers of serial killers, murderers and rapists standing behind their sons/daughters and being present during court proceedings. What does it take for a mother to defend her child?

This is a good debut by Donna Hemans and I look forward to her new novel
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4.0 out of 5 stars Forced Into Action, November 11, 2002
By 
Dawn R Reeves "tamardi" (Harrisburg, PA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: River Woman: A Novel (Hardcover)
River Woman is a haunting account at one woman's pain of lost love and an entire town's pain of justice denied. Kelithe is a nineteen year old woman whose son, Timothy, drowns in the Rio Minho River as his mother washed laundry. The other women at the river say that Kelithe stood by and let her son drown so that she could go "foreign" with her mother; a mother that left her in Standfast, Jamaica fifteen years prior.
Enter Sonya, Kelithe's mother, who arrives back in Standfast for the wake. Kelithe denies her role in her son's drowning, while Sonya contemplates her daughter's role by shifting back and forth between blaming and not blaming her and listening to the natives' account of the drowning.
The uniqueness of this story comes in the form of Kelithe and Sonya's contemplation through the reader only. Never do they deny or blame each other verbally for the drowning, the love denied, the false promises or the betrayal. The river and river women are symbolic as they represent all that Standfast has endured since Sonya was a young girl in Standfast and before. This incident forces the town into action and produces emotions that the island of Jamaica has never seen by the residents of Standfast.
Written in a very lyrical tone, River Woman is a novel that will have you contemplating the ramifications of Sonya's actions fifteen years prior and her actions in the present. This is a sad account that leaves you wondering what exactly happened at the river that day and why.
Reviewed by Dawn R. Reeves, Apooo BookClub
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River Woman: A Novel
River Woman: A Novel by Donna Hemans (Hardcover - January 2, 2002)
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