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Mustard Seed Paperback – November 7, 2017
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About the Author
Laila Ibrahim spent much of her career as a preschool director, a birth doula, and a religious educator. That work, coupled with her education in developmental psychology and attachment theory, provided ample fodder for the stories in Mustard Seed and Yellow Crocus.
She’s a devout Unitarian Universalist, determined to do her part to add a little more love and justice to our beautiful and painful world. She lives with her wonderful wife, Rinda, in a small cohousing community in Berkeley, California with two other families. Her amazing young adult children, Kalin and Maya, are kind enough to text, FaceTime, and call her on a regular basis.
Laila is blessed to be working full-time as a novelist. When she isn’t writing, she likes to walk with friends, do jigsaw puzzles, play games, work in the garden, travel, cook, and eat all kinds of delicious food.
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And then there is Lisbeth: her parents were furious when she broke an understanding with a man of their choosing to marry Matthew and head north. While she’s missing her parents, guilty for disappointing them, and concerned for their well-being, her first visit home when her son Samuel was an infant: her mother’s callous and cold treatment mirrored her childhood and recriminations for her beliefs, choices and what her family saw as abandonment and rejection left her reeling. But, ever the dutiful daughter, her mother’s letter containing news of her father’s illness and a request that she return to sit vigil spur her planned trip to visit her family, bringing her two young children (Samuel, 9 and Sadie, 6) along to see their grandparents and where she grew up. Simultaneously, Mattie has decided that she, her son and daughter will take a wagon back to Virginia, to convince her niece Sarah to return to Ohio with them.
A journey fraught with new revelations and understanding: both Lisbeth and Jordan are convinced that now the war is over and emancipation the law of the land that slavery and the inequities based on nothing more than race and antiquated beliefs are over. Never did either expect nor allow for the hatred and anger that remain: that ingrained belief of many (then and now) that there is an inbred and biological superiority held by whites, and that their way of life, made possible by slave labor and impossible by actually paying for the labor that works their plantations. Jordan believes that her mother, while loving her to bits, is overly cautious and fearful for their safety in returning, and Lisbeth hopes that her return will herald a new start for her relationship with her mother and brother as she says goodbye to her father.
From the tension and guilt that Lisbeth carries, worries about her mother and their welcome, the questions and reactions her children will have, the emotions brought back from being home and the constant guilt trip from her parents’ reduced circumstances and the shock when she realizes that circumstances haven’t truly changed: her family still clings to the ‘old ways’, her mother’s behavior more erratic than ever, and even her children are full of questions that she can’t always answer. For Jordan – from the first meeting with overseers to experiencing the slave quarters in which her cousin Sarah lives, the ineffective (if mostly well-meaning) function of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and the capture and imprisonment of her brother under the questionable claim of ‘vagrancy’ start to show her the error of her beliefs. From the first page until the last, Ibrahim manages to maintain levels of emotional tension that never quite disappear: bringing the concept of a country (and families) torn apart over the mistaken belief in the right to own another human being for one’s own purpose. The strength and faith that Mattie clings to is remarkable to behold, her simple and well-defined faith in the rightness of her convictions and actions, her openness and enduring love for her family and children, and the affection she carries for Lisbeth – a child not of her flesh but one she cared for as her own nonetheless influence the impact of this story in human terms. The facts are there for anyone to access, but it is the emotional impact of the telling and showing here that put this firmly into the favorites.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
ALTERNATING FIRST PERSON, THIRD PERSON narration blends into an easy flow, keeping me present with the characters. I've rarely felt so much a part of folks like these and cheering for them, even praying for them. I know that sounds weird since they're fictitious; and if not fictional, they're no longer living. But yes, they are living in today's world and folks.
CARING ABOUT THE CHARACTERS. Jordan Freedman, 19 years old, is a teacher in a racially diverse one-room elementary school. Her family'a heritage is being slaves. You got to love her and sympathize with her devotion to her students: “God, help me to be a worthy guide for these hearts, souls, and minds. Amen.”
Lisbeth, 30-years-old, was born into the privileged class in the antebellum South fo slave-owners. Her beloved nurse from babyhood is Mattie, Jordan’s mother. All these women develop a bond deeper than just being friends. But that bond is tested when Lisbeth returns to her former home, a plantation in Virginia. There she faces smothering animosity from her Confederate family who feel she betrayed them by marrying an abolitionist.
TENSE AND TENDER PLOT. So too Jordan and her mother Mattie return to their former home. They want to save their family who still are being oppressed by their former owners and other whites. Will young Jordan and Mattie be able to bring some liberation for their beloved family? This is both a tense and tender novel as both families seek to come to terms with the past and free themselves from lingering hatred and present fractures.
The author writes from her in-depth research plus her own background as founder and director of Woolsey Children’s School. Both her heart and experience enrich this amazing story she shares. I’m sure this book's people will invade my emotions for many years to come, as it likely will yours. I look forward to reading more books by this very human and skilled author.
Elizabeth Johnson was born in the South on 'Fair Oaks' Plantation, Elizabeth is thirty years old. Elizabeth living with her abolitionist husband and her children in Ohio. Mattie Freedman was Elizabeth's Nurse Maid when Elizabeth was born on the Plantation. Jordan Freedman is Mattie's daughter, grown and teaching school.
The story reflects the heart breaks of the free slaves after the Civil War. The slaves could not find the members of their families. They didn't know their ages, had no last name and was sold from plantation to plantation.They were not allowed to learn to read or write. When give freedom it was a bittersweet gift, heartbreaking for each family.
This is an emotional and tender novel that captures the heart but is filled with love and faith. There were numerous characters, each having their own personalities and troubles to overcome. Mattie always had mustard seeds in her pocket for spreading more faith around. This author is a great storyteller as the chapters flow together to become a wonderful novel, a real page turner. I have learned more American History by reading this book.