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Cane River (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – Bargain Price, April 1, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 669 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Five generations and a hundred years in the life of a matriarchal black Louisiana family are encapsulated in this ambitious debut novel that is based in part upon the lives, as preserved in both historical record and oral tradition, of the author's ancestors. In 1834, nine-year-old Suzette, the "cocoa-colored" house servant of a Creole planter family, has aspirations to read, to live always in a "big house" and maybe even to marry into the relatively privileged world of the gens de couleur libre. Her plans are dashed, however, when at age 13 a French ‚migr‚ takes her as his mistress. Her "high yellow" daughter Philomene, in turn, is maneuvered into becoming the mother of Creole planter Narcisse Fredieu's "side family." After the Civil War, Philomene pins her hopes for a better future on her light-skinned daughter, Emily Fredieu, who is given a year of convent schooling in New Orleans. But Emily must struggle constantly to protect her children by her father's French cousin from terrorist "Night Riders" and racist laws. Tademy is candid about her ancestors' temptations to "pass," as their complexions lighten from the color of "coffee, to cocoa, to cream to milk, to lily." While she fully imagines their lives, she doesn't pander to the reader by introducing melodrama or sex. Her frank observations about black racism add depth to the tale, and she demonstrates that although the practice of slavery fell most harshly upon blacks, and especially women, it also constricted the lives and choices of white men. Photos of and documents relating to Tademy's ancestors add authenticity to a fascinating story. (Apr.)Forecasts: The success in recent years of similarly conceived nonfiction, like Edward Ball's Slaves in the Family, proves readers can't get enough of racially themed family history. Tademy, who left a high-level corporate job to research her family's story, should draw larger-than-average audiences for readings in 11 cities.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (April 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446678457
  • ASIN: B0041T4PXE
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (669 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,221,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ladyslott VINE VOICE on June 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
"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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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