“A haunting, engrossing portrait of two families – one white, one black – whose lives are woven together and then shattered” (The Washington Post) by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Oil-boom opulence, fear, hate, and lynchings are the backdrop for this riveting novel, originally published in 2001. Althea Whiteside, an oil-wildcatter’s high-strung white wife, and her enigmatic black maid, Graceful, share a complex connection during the tense days of the Oklahoma oil rush. Their juxtaposing stories – and those of others close to them – unfold as tensions mount to a violent climax in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, during which whites burned the city’s prosperous black neighborhood to the ground. The massacre becomes the crucible that melds and tests each of the character in this masterful exploration of the American race story and the ties that bind us irrevocably to one another.
In an arresting examination of race and heritage, Askew (The Mercy Seat) mixes historical fact with compelling fiction. From the ominous opening scene to the race-segregated society of 1920s Tulsa, Okla., the reader is carried along on a journey of fragmented memories and introduced to characters with shadowy motives and even darker secrets. Althea Whiteside is 13 when her mother, kicked by a calf during pregnancy, gives birth to Japheth, the only boy in a family of seven girls. His portentous entrance into the world is just the beginning of his influence on Althea's life and the destruction he will leave in his wake. Years later, Althea has left her impoverished family and married dashing oil baron Franklin Dedmeyer. She's content to be his pampered, social wife, taken care of by servantsDincluding Graceful Whiteside, a black woman whom Althea views with alternate fascination and repulsion, as she slowly realizes that the two share more than a surname. A mysterious letter, a double lynching and Japheth's sudden intrusion into Althea's life set in motion events that draw these characters closer to one another and to the great fire and race riot of Tulsa in 1921, a murderous rampage that ran most of the blacks out of town and left hundreds dead. Written from multiple perspectives the narrative is at times difficult to follow, but Askew's bold and disturbing chronicle of greed, racial hatred and intrigue rewards patient attention. Her proseDrich, leisurely, gracefulDengages all the senses and encloses the reader in a bell jar of heat, hate and budding violence. By the novel's end, all the voices coalesce into a vivid account of the riot, during which the various characters' hubris and heroism are exposed.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Fire in Beulah
This book is extraordinary: well-developed characters who are flawed, fully human people many of whom have suffered beyond comprehension, intertwined story lines that reel in the reader, and an amazing history of Oklahoma and the oil industry. But the digitizing was despicable! So many transcribing errors that the story suffers.
An amazing and touching story about a piece of lost history. It is truly captivating.