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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.

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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 Cane River March 15 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What a book! Hope there will be a movie version of this. I couldn't put it down once I started reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Strong characters and a heart felt read March 2 2013
By The Baking Bookworm TOP 500 REVIEWER
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 ... after all, it's an Oprah pick and she and I haven't seen eye to eye for awhile when it comes to book choices. I typically love reading about this era in time. It's still very shocking to me that a mere 150 years ago there was slavery permitted in the southern States.

This book runs in the same vein as "Roots" and "Book of Negroes" (two of my favourite books of all time) ... but didn't quite affect me as much as those books and I didn't seem to lose myself in her story as much as I have with other books. I wanted to, I truly did ... it just didn't connect with me as much as I had hoped it would.

"Cane River" follows the lives of 4 generations of black southern women spanning from the mid 1800's to the 1930's. That's a lot of years and a lot of different characters. So many characters that she just couldn't give the time to let us into the individual characters' motivations and inner thoughts. That would have made a HUGE book and become much too convoluted. I found it hard enough keeping track of which children belonged to which mother (thankfully Tademy has a family tree at the beginning of the book to help the reader).

I do give Tademy huge credit for painstakingly researching her family history. Who wouldn't want to do that?!? I enjoyed the fact that she was able to include bills of sale and photos to add to her story and help the reader get a better mental picture of the characters.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Riveting Family Saga April 18 2012
By Louise Jolly TOP 50 REVIEWER
Grand Central Publishing | April 1, 2002 | Trade Paperback | ISBN 0-446-67845-7

Story Description:

Lalita Tademy was a successful corporate vice president at a Fortune 500 company when she decided to embark upon what would become an obsessive odyssey to uncover her family's past. Through exhaustive research, interviews, and the help of professional genealogists, she would find herself transported back to the early 1800s, to an isolated, close-knit rural community on Louisiana's Cane River. Here, Tademy takes historical fact and mingles it with fiction to weave a vivid and dramatic account of what life was like for the four remarkable women who came before her. Beginning with Tademy's great-great-great-great grandmother Elisabeth, this is a family saga that sweeps from the early days of slavery through the Civil War into a pre-Civil Rights South's unique and moving slice of Americas past that will resonate with readers for generations to come. Well-researched and powerfully written, Cane River is just the kind of family portrait that will appeal to the same diverse audience as Alex Haley's bestselling phenomenon Roots (Dell Books, reissue 1980) and the New York Times bestseller Sally Heming's (Buccaneer Books, 1992), which sold over one million hardcover copies and inspired the feature film Jefferson in Paris, starring Nick Nolte and Thandie Newton.

My Review:

CANE RIVER covers 137 years of Lalita Tademy's family's history, written as fiction, but deeply rooted in years of research historical fact, and family lore. It is a family saga that covers four generations of women born into slavery and searching for freedom. Every time I read a story like this I am utterly outraged at the treatment that these people endured.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly captivating! June 16 2009
"Cane River" covers four generations of women and is without question one of the best family sagas ever written. Born into slavery and searching for freedom, the events will break your heart yet instill a great appreciation for the value of life we have achieved today. Regardless of one's culture or ethnic backbround, the love, courage and determination shown throughout this book will stay with you.

The book is comparable to Alex Haley's "Roots", which is also highly recommended. Yes, "Roots" is lengthy and an older book, but there are few authors today who can write on the subject of slavery and leave such an emotional impact on the reader. Both books are well worth the read.
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Format:Audio Cassette
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 during pre-Civil War times and ending in the early 20th century. I was easily able to put myself in their place and feel outrage at their unfair treatment, but as with the characters in the story, it was an impotent outrage at best. I didn't even have the satisfaction of seeing anything resembling justice done in the end, outside of Philamene's psychic "glimpsing" of a better future for her descendants.
I vacillated between giving this 3 stars or 4, and definitely would have given it at least 4 stars if the ending had turned out better. But it was still a story worth listening to.
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Most recent customer reviews
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartwarming and moving story of survival...
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... Read more
Published on June 25 2004 by Cynthia K. Robertson
4.0 out of 5 stars Come Meet the Remarkable Women of Cane River!
This is quite a touching story. The author, Lalita Tadema, embarked on a journey to uncover the story about her family history. Read more
Published on June 3 2004 by S. Schwartz
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Creole family history thru 5 generations
Cane River begins with Suzette, daughter of Elizabeth, a house slave belonging to a Creole cotton planter family. Read more
Published on March 8 2004 by Peggy Vincent
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. 22 2004 by "iplaykeez"
5.0 out of 5 stars The second book of my life that made my heart cry...
Lalita Tademy said that her ancestors forced her to write this book, especially Philomene, and surely they did. Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2004 by Christina
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