A New York Times bestseller and Oprah's Book Club Pick-the unique and deeply moving saga of four generations of African-American women whose journey from slavery to freedom begins on a Creole plantation in Louisiana.
Beginning with her great-great-great-great grandmother, a slave owned by a Creole family, Lalita Tademy chronicles four generations of strong, determined black women as they battle injustice to unite their family and forge success on their own terms. They are women whose lives begin in slavery, who weather the Civil War, and who grapple with contradictions of emancipation, Jim Crow, and the pre-Civil Rights South. As she peels back layers of racial and cultural attitudes, Tademy paints a remarkable picture of rural Louisiana and the resilient spirit of one unforgettable family.
There is Elisabeth, who bears both a proud legacy and the yoke of bondage... her youngest daughter, Suzette, who is the first to discover the promise-and heartbreak-of freedom... Suzette's strong-willed daughter Philomene, who uses a determination born of tragedy to reunite her family and gain unheard-of economic independence... and Emily, Philomene's spirited daughter, who fights to secure her children's just due and preserve their dignity and future.
Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Cane River presents a slice of American history never before seen in such piercing and personal detail.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Cane River isn’t just the kind of novel you tell your friends about. It’s the kind of novel you buy for your friends so you can talk about it. Lalita Tademy’s sweeping, multigenerational story is absolutely breathtaking—not only because it filled us with inspiration, but because it’s based in fact. Tademy draws from the life stories of her own family, portraying the experiences of four generations of exceptional women, from enslavement on a Louisiana plantation to the everyday struggles of Black people in the Jim Crow South. By the time we got to the story of Emily, a determined young woman struggling to improve her family’s position during an age of miscegenation laws and segregation, we’d become totally enraptured by Tademy’s beautiful portrait of the gifts passed down from one woman to another—and the family bonds that endure despite the horrors of rape, separation, and war. The unforgettable heroines of Cane River filled us with hope and awe.
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. 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.
This was such wonderful reading. My sister lives outside of Colfax, LA and knows much of the history. The treatment and the clear separation only because of color has always been appalling to me. My sister took me to the plantations and several places mentioned in this book and I watched a interview with Lolita Tademy and it made this book seem even more real. So much sadness in the book but many of the elders kept their spirits up with keeping family close and their belief in God. It’s a great history, story and eye opener.
I enjoyed reading this book because it is a great history lesson, the details and understanding of the people are so real. An entertaining and easy to read black history listen of how the strength and love of family is the cornerstone to surviving and overcoming the wrongs that were done to our people. Thank you for sharing your family history because it is all our history.