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Cane River (Oprah's Book Club) Mass Market Paperback – February 1, 2005
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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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 the Audio Cassette edition.
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 the Audio Cassette edition.
Top customer reviews
The story opens when cotton is king and Suzette is still a child on a plantation along with her mother, Elizabeth. As the story moves along through the Civil War and through Restoration and into the 20th Century, we see how the lives of child, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother weave together - how they take on their sadness and grief, and share their triumphs and joys. And through it all, for those of us who can never truly understand the experience of Black America, it gives us a glimpse, a small insight into how and why things have developed in some families of African Americans. Each of the women in this novel are people I would have liked to have met and talked to. I think they must have been fascinating individuals and I'm glad Ms. Tademy brought them to us.
I so enjoyed this novel, I really didn't want to finish. I felt as though I had to say "good-bye" to some good friends and I was sad to see them leave. I know not every novel is appealing to every person, but this one truly struck a chord with me and I enjoyed it greatly.
The book is based on Lalita Tademy family history. She did a Fantastic job of merging historical fact and family lore into fiction. It spans 137 years of family history centered on three female characters; Suzette, Philome (Suzette's daughter by a frenchman named Eugene Daurat) and Emily (Philomene's daughter with a white man named Narcisse Fredieu). The book covers the civil war, the end of slavery and the beginning of the Jim Crow era. They are all strong female characters but the strongest one is without a doubt Philomene. She is the one that holds the family together and is the one that is able get to her own land after the end of slavery. Emily has five children with a frenchman named Joseph Billes and from an early age is taught that her fair skin makes her quality and places her above the Negroes and colored of the time. Nonetheless, because she was born to a mulatto woman she is considered colored in central Louisiana and her relationship with Joseph is frowned upon. When the Jim Crow laws come into effect Emily and her family are persecuted in a vicious way by the emerging Klu Klux Klan. As a result her partner is forced to marry into a white family and that marks the beginning of the end for Joseph Billes. Even though Emily and her children could pass for white in any other part of the country, Joseph and her never contemplate leaving the state of Louisiana. I read it for the first time in 2002 but enjoyed it more the second time around. I Highly recommend it.
Life in the South in 1860s. Black women were taken advantage of sexually by white men. The women could not say, NO!