This is a multi-layered tale of women all born before their time, their quietly amazing lives, and the interwoven friendships and relationships that they have, both individually and together.
There's Georginea, born in 1872, the granddaughter of Ephraim Ward, the abolitionist, whose fellow students were Lyman Beecher and Theodore Ward. When her mother Rose dies at her birth, her father Davis Ward, leaves her in the care of her maternal aunt Lenora until she is three years old, then brings her to live with him. In Oberlin College, she meets and falls in love with Tobias Jewell, a black man. Her father forbids her to marry him (apparently his liberal views don't stretch THAT far), and she is withdrawn from college and sent to teach in Kentucky, where she ends up at Berea College. In 1890, half of the students there were black, but by 1908, the Day Law forbade integrated education. After Georginea's somewhat dramatic response to this, and a series of disappointments, we find her as Sister Georgia, living in a tiny Shaker community, the last of a dying breed.
There's Vista (named Visitor by mother), raised by her grandmother with occasional visits from her mother, who dies when Vista is a teenager. When Vista meets and falls in love with Nicklaus Jansen, a Swedish boy, they marry and Maze (Amazing Grace) is born.
Sarah experiences a profound tragedy when she was young. She stopped speaking to everyone, including her parents. Eventually, she comes back out of her protective shell, and marries George, a minister. Eventually, she and George have Mary Elizabeth, who is taught by her Aunt Paulie to play piano. She is a gifted player who helps her father take care of her mother, who is prone to falling back into her own world and speaking her own language.
Mary Elizabeth (M.E.) and Maze end up as roommates in Berea College, where in 1950, black students were again allowed to study. M. E. doesn't know what to make of her odd, extremely open wild-haired roommate, and Maze, for her part, attempts to pull M.E. out of her shell and be her friend.
The writing style here is fluid, with vividly drawn places and scenarios. You will fall in love with all of these women, through their hurts, betrayals, disappointments, and quiet triumphs. Most of all, this is a tale about the ties that bind us all to one another.
She had seen this in the men who stayed at the Beau Rive Hotel, and she had laughed at herself, the poor coal-country girl hidden in the kitchen, when she felt a wave of longing well up inside her at the sight of those men in their crisp suits and gold cufflinks. She couldn't even get a dirt-poor boy like Nicklaus Jansen to stay put; what kind of hold could she ever have on a man like that?
White people in downtown Richmond still crossed the street to avoid walking on the same side as her. Having a baby hadn't changed that. White people had also killed her brother. That was what she knew about white people.
Only Negroes who talked back or stepped out of line risked such dangers, George assured his congregation. If they kept to their own and minded their tongues, they would be safe.
BOOK RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars