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Cane River [Paperback]

Lalita Tademy
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (222 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 1 2002 Oprah's Book Club
The "New York Times" bestseller and Oprah's Book Club Pick--the unique and deeply moving epic of four generations of African-American women based on one family's ancestral past.

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Product Description

From Amazon

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

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madame Francoise Derbanne slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartwarming and moving story of survival... June 25 2004
Format:Paperback
Lalita Tademy has woven together a moving and heartwarming tale in her first novel, Cane River. Chosen for Oprah's Book Club, Tademy uses the skeleton of her family tree as the basis for this fascinating work of historical fiction. The author had personal knowledge as far back as her great-grandmother, who was born into slavery. She gave up a lucrative job to search out her family genealogy, which took two years to research and led to the writing of this book.
Tademy was able to document as far back as Elizabeth, a kitchen slave who was sold from Virginia to Rosedew Plantation on the Cane River in Louisiana. The book traces the lives of Elizabeth and her daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter (Suzette, Philomene and Emily). All four women were born into slavery, and all had children by white plantation owners (whether by force or by choice). They each had enough intelligence and enough drive to make sure that these men provided a better life for both themselves and their children. Each generation benefited in a different way from not having to work the fields to better living arrangements to education for their children and even the deeding of 163 acres of land. These four women also had the strength to keep their family together despite difficult times, and to even help them thrive into the 20th Century.
But along with the successes, this is also a tale of heartache and tragedy. Slavery was never easy, no matter what the circumstances. Many times, a plantation owner would die and his slave families split up and sold to settle the estate. One happy slave couple were allowed to marry, only to have the husband sold up North because the executor of the estate wanted the wife to himself. Yellow fever, pneumonia, other diseases and childbirth claimed many lives.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Come Meet the Remarkable Women of Cane River! June 2 2004
Format:Turtleback
This is quite a touching story. The author, Lalita Tadema, embarked on a journey to uncover the story about her family history. While searching she discovered that she was descended from a long line of very remarkable and strong women. She introduces each of her anscestors with feeling and love and allows the reader to get to know and love them too. The story tells of five generations of Cane River women. Elisabeth, Suzette and Philomene all served as slaves in various households around Cane River. They all had partly white families after each had come to the attention of various landowners in the area. It is a case of history repeating itself, but the women had no choice in the matter and had to suffer these sometimes unwanted attentions. Some found true love, some didn't, but all grew stronger through their experiences. In the book we see the life of the slave and the slave owner, the life the people had to live during the Civil War, the time when the blacks received freedom, and the hatred and mistrust displayed by white people towards these people after they gained their freedom. We see families growing up (all made up of women, girls and young boys). Fathers lived with their white wives and children, and only visited their coloured mistresses. Sometimes they provided for them and their children, but sometimes they didn't. These women knew to take what life had to give, and try to make the best of things. They also understood the importance of families to make them grounded and centred. In the last section we get an intimate look at Emily (Lalita's grandmother). Almost white enough to "pass", she didn't feel that she fit in either world. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Creole family history thru 5 generations March 7 2004
Format:Paperback
Cane River begins with Suzette, daughter of Elizabeth, a house slave belonging to a Creole cotton planter family. Suzette's girlish aspirations for perhaps being freed to marry and live her own life are cut short when, at age 13, she is taken as the mistress of a cousin of her owners - and she eventually bears him 2 children.
From there, the tale goes forward to follow the life of Philomene, Suzette's 2nd child, then her daughter, Emily, and finally to her children. Through each successive generation, the girls' skin color becomes paler and paler by the diluting quality of white planter's blood.
This tale is author Tademy's attempt to create her own Louisiana family history. She quit a high-level job in the technology industry to explore her roots and then to write this book - a novel, but with lots of truth to back up the story line. Family archival photographs help us see these characters as far more than just people defined by words; they become real in our vision as well as in our imagination.
Stunningly successful first book.
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Format:Paperback
Lalita Tademy said that her ancestors forced her to write this book, especially Philomene, and surely they did.
This is an all encompassing historical story that is told as a fictional account of the story of Lalita's family through the voices of generations although it rings with truth. Lalita took whatever historical papers she could, starting with a bill of sale and uncovered the story of her blood, focusing on the lives of the women in her family.
It is a story that is relevent to everyone, slaves, freed slaves and slave owners. It dwells on the the personal relationships between blacks and whites and the offspring of these relationships.
Although this is a story of the brutallity of slavery it is not a 'slave story'. It is however a story of unbelievable strength, endurance and above all love.
The love that would drive a mother to hope that if her children were lighter skinned than herself their life would be so much better than hers. And this whole book is under this perception.
It brought a new understanding of the light skin dark skin situation within the African-American communities, and how it was a decision of survival made by our fore-mothers. And for those that are not of the darker hue, it might bring an awareness of a conflict that exists within the African-American community that you might not have been aware of before.
When I had finished reading this book I cried, as I came to understand the courage, love and selflessness that my people had shown so that I might be where I am.
Surely now I have a responsibility to live a better life, and any book that stimulates such depth of thought, is surely worth reading.
Thankyou Lalita.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Cane River
What a book! Hope there will be a movie version of this. I couldn't put it down once I started reading.
Published 5 months ago by Shopaholic
4.0 out of 5 stars Strong characters and a heart felt read
Note: This review was previously posted on my blog, The Baking Bookworm ([...])

My Thoughts: I was a little surprised that I enjoyed this book so much ... Read more
Published 18 months ago by The Baking Bookworm
4.0 out of 5 stars Riveting Family Saga
Grand Central Publishing | April 1, 2002 | Trade Paperback | ISBN 0-446-67845-7

Story Description:

Lalita Tademy was a successful corporate vice president at... Read more
Published on April 18 2012 by Louise Jolly
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly captivating!
"Cane River" covers four generations of women and is without question one of the best family sagas ever written. Read more
Published on June 16 2009 by The Mad Hatter
3.0 out of 5 stars A heartbreaking story without the satisfaction of justice
Although it broke my heart many times over, I enjoyed listening to the abridged audiobook version of this story that spans several generations of African American women, beginning... Read more
Published on July 12 2004 by D. Prince
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome story for first-time author
I had heard of Cane River for several years before I finally read it, and I was so glad I did. The beginning was slow going (for me), because I've read many stories about slavery... Read more
Published on July 3 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars My opinion of Cane River
I do not know why, but I could not really get into this book. I usually enjoy narratives such as this, but I just could not enjoy it to the fullest. Read more
Published on April 25 2004 by LoVe2ReAd
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant story
Impressive debut novel spanning the history of five generations. From the plantation to freedom, the story is overflowing with tales and rich descriptions of the times. Read more
Published on March 29 2004 by Patty Philbrook
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Family History
Cane River was recommended to me, and I read it not really knowing what to expect. It turned out that I could not put it down. The story was incredible. Read more
Published on Jan. 21 2004 by "iplaykeez"
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