The Personal History Of Rachel Dupree Paperback – Apr 17 2009
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"The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is a John Ford movie...with black people! It's spectacular! Really great! I can't put it down. I've never read anything like it!"
-Viola Davis, Academy Award-nominated and Tony Award-winning actress
"A rousing gallop with African American pioneers settling in the South Dakota Badlands."
"An eye-opening look at the little explored area of a black frontier woman in the American West."
"A captivating twist on the familiar pioneer story [that] is ambitious for a first novel, and it triumphs."
-Richmond Times Dispatch
"Emotionally arresting...Vivid and expressive...A compelling story that at times will leave the reader breathless."
"This debut novel...offers taut writing and an unusual subject."
"Deeply affecting... The title character, reminiscent of Celie in The Color Purple, is an unassuming heroine with true grit and deep-seated dignity."
-San Antonio Express-News
"Emotionally enveloping...Reminiscent of the iconic Willa Cather and Laura Ingalls Wilder... The story is captivating, and will dig deep into the hearts of its readers."
-WOSU (Ohio NPR affiliate)
"A shimmering novel of the sacrifice, hardship, and determination of a black family in the early twentieth-century settlement of the West."
"Striking...Admirably crisp... Weisgarber's style is Alice Walker by way of Kent Haruf."
"By writing a novel that no one else has thought to write yet, Weisgarber has pushed a frontier herself [and] changes a key point in a quintessentially American narrative-a narrative that, up until now, has centered almost exclusively on the experiences of white people."
"Compelling historical fiction at its best, with appeal factors similar to Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain or Breena Clark's Stand the Storm."
-Library Journal, starred review
"A stunning novel-so accomplished, insightful, and deeply affecting that it is hard to believe it is a debut. Rachel will capture your imagination, break your heart, and inflame your hope."
-Ellen Feldman, author of Scottsboro and Lucy
"An indelibly affecting teaching story: How unchecked selfish desires, regardless of their origins in historical cruelty and deprivation, lead inevitably to suffering. A suffering that can be alleviated only by the realization of a pure love for others greater than one's desires for self. Rachel and Isaac DuPree and their tiny, vulnerable family stand as monuments to the forgotten millions of brutal, spirit deforming choices made and endured by so many brave and deeply wounded Americans."
"It is through our fiction that Americans have best honored the diversity and richness of our culture and history. In The Personal History of Rachel DuPree Ann Weisgarber tells the story of an African American family struggling to survive in the Dakota Badlands with a vividness and intensity by turns heart-breaking and thrilling. It is a story of human betrayal and human love, and a woman you will not soon forget."
-Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek
"An essential American story etched in vividly remarkable prose, of a unique period in our history, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree beats with the timeless heart of human endeavors, yet drops us seamlessly into particular spaces and times, a grand achievement of the first rate. Some will call this a novel of race, some will see the futility of the dustbowl settlement, some will believe it to be a tale of a strong woman. It's all of these and so much more, most clearly a tale that will hold and resonate on many levels."
-Jeffrey Lent, author of In the Fall
"Ann Weisgarber has written an astonishing novel of the pioneering West-a novel as beautiful, profound, and unsentimental as those of Rolvaag and Cather. And yet her story feels brand new, its insights into race in America poignant and timely. The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is the finest novel I've read this year. I can't wait to read her next one."
-Lin Enger, author of Undiscovered Country
"Ann Weisgarber has taken a solitary haunting image and created an entire family and hard landscape and an indomitable character, Rachel DuPree, whom I worried about for several days as I raced through this novel. Rachel's story has never been told, and she is a singular heroine in a vivid and heartless world."
-Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon and A Million Nightingales
"The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is a wonderful addition to the literature of the Great Plains. Ann Weisgarber not only locates a bright, clear voice in that vast, silent region but does so in a much-neglected part of its population. This is a brave, lovely novel."
-Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948 and Orchard
"In The Personal History of Rachel DuPree Ann Weisgarber has created characters of great strength and dignity in an exciting, fast moving novel about courage in the face of the terrible truth. You will inhabit the lives of these characters as you read the novel, and long after you're done, the characters will inhabit your life. This is a tremendous start in what will be a fine career for Ann Weisgarber. She's a great storyteller."
-Thomas Cobb, author of Crazy Heart and Shavetail
"Beautifully done, rendered in spare, un-showy prose as denuded as the Dakota earth; while Rachel is a marvellously realised creation."
"Vintage Americana, as chilling as Cold Mountain."
"A gem . . . Pride and prejudice are the prevalent themes running through this book. From the dramatic first chapter it's a powerful story of courage in the face of adversity."
-Irish Examiner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Ann Weisgarber was born and raised in Kettering, Ohio. After graduating from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, she was a social worker in a psychiatric hospital before moving to Houston, Texas, with her husband. She earned a Master of Arts in Sociology at the University of Houston and taught high school and later, sociology at a junior college. She has lived in Boston, Massachusetts, and Des Moines, Iowa, but now splits her time between Sugar Land, Texas, and Galveston, Texas.
Top Customer Reviews
It's 1917 and a terrible drought has struck the Badlands in South Dakota. Rachel DuPree, her husband Isaac and their children are struggling to survive this latest hardship. For Isaac, there is no question - he will prevail. His goal has been the land all along and he will not give up. But Rachel is struggling. She's given birth to seven children, lost two and has another on the way. When Isaac lowers one of her girls down the well to get what little water remains, it seems to be a breaking point. Rachel questions her life, what is best for her children and her relationship with the man who is her husband.
In flashbacks we learn how Isaac and Rachel came to be homesteaders in this brutal environment. Rachel is a cook in a boarding house. While she believes she is in love with the dashing son of the owner, Isaac sees it as a business proposition - Rachel can apply for another 160 acres of land from the Homestead Act.
"I stared until my eyes blurred. It was so big. All that land and sky, all that openness; there was no end to any of it. It made me feel small, It gave me a bad feeling. I didn't belong; this place called for bigger things than me."
Weisgarber has written a story rich with emotion, detail and history. Relationships are explored - that of Rachel and her husband, the sense of belonging and homesickness. The history of settlers in this area has been explored, but not really from the point of view of black settlers.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is Ann Weisgarber's singular achievement in The Personal History of Rachel DuPree. You come away from her vivid, moving, tough, and tender novel exhausted by the trials of a young African-American wife and mother scraping out a living in the Badlands of South Dakota in the early years of the Twentieth Century. You also come away stronger, wiser, and with a bigger heart.
Weisgarber has a remarkable eye for detail. The grit, dust, relentless heat, and hard-heartedness that Rachel and her family endure are rendered with such exquisite granularity, that after each chapter you feel it necessary to shake the dirt off your clothes.
Novels about tough women who triumph over seemingly insurmountable challenges are a dime a dozen. This is not one of those novels. There is nothing formulaic, forced, or forgettable about this story. It is priceless.
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree was nominated for Britain's prestigious Orange Prize, alongside works by Toni Morrison (Nobel Prize) and Marilynne Robinson (Pulitzer Prize). When you read the book, you'll know why.
I haven't written many (or any?) book reviews before.
When the story began with Rachel's daughter, Liz, being lowered into a dried up well, I knew then I wouldn't be happy unless I read the entire book right away. There was never a point where I felt I could put the book down. Each chapter introduced another level of Rachel, as well as her life with her husband, Isaac.
I was expecting her to have lost some children, just because of the time period, but the descriptions of the family's thirst and hunger was extremely upsetting. Even the farm animals suffering was described in detail...it made me feel like I was experiencing the drought myself. After reading about one hardship after another, I wondered why she would have stayed with Isaac for so long, when the original agreement was not a traditional marriage proposal.
I was suspicious of the pregnant Indian woman with the mixed-race little boy, but Rachel's reaction was unpredictable. She was a very complex character, and Isaac seemed more like a shadow of a person compared to Rachel. It was disappointing to see them being just as racist with the Native Americans, as the white people were to them.
I was very pleased with the way Rachel handled herself in the end, but I was disappointed that the story didn't continue onto the train.
This novel was written as if Rachel herself was writing it; I thought the flashbacks made the story stronger too.
Ironically, I wouldn't compare this story to The Color Purple, but maybe Their Eyes Were Watching God...the concept of a family struggling with a new environment reminded me of The Calligrapher's Daughter.
I think Ann Weisgarber did an excellent job of telling Rachel's story.
Several years and five children later, pregnant Rachel and Isaac are in the middle of a drought. There hasn't been water for many months and the dust is so thick you can't cut it with a knife. The animals are slowly dying and their food supply is next to nil. Isaac leaves Rachel in search for food and water, and she comes to the conclusion she can't take living on an isolated ranch anymore. She wants much more for herself and her children, but she knows Isaac will never leave his ranch.
Ann Weisgarber paints a vivid portrait of Rachel's struggle in the Badlands. She illustrates clear images of the ranch built in the middle of nowhere, the raging gusts of blowing dust, to the hunger and thirst her family endures. Weisgraber allowed me to enter into Rachel's world and witness her role as the backbone of the DuPree family as she mustered more strength each day to do what was necessary to take care to her children. There were a couple of predictable events, but THE PERSONAL LIFE OF RACHEL DUPREE is a tender novel of survival, love, determination, with a small insight on African-American homesteaders.
Reviewed by Sharon Lewis
of The RAWSISTAZ(tm) Reviewers
When handsome, light-skinned Isaac DuPree, the son of the boarding house proprietor arrives to visit his mother, Rachel is immediately smitten. Even though his mother wants a wife of higher means for her son, he wants to homestead and since the best land is all claimed, he ends up in the Badlands of South Dakota and wants all the land he can lay his hands on. He eventually makes an agreement with Rachel. If she will turn over the 160 acres she can get as a single woman to him, he will marry her. It's mainly just a marriage of convenience for Isaac but Rachel wants to get out of dirty, smelly Chicago and marriage and homesteading is her ticket. She has no idea how desolate and lonely her new home will be.
The book then fast forwards 14 years. Rachel is still toughing it out in the Badlands with Isaac and their children. But a drought has enveloped the area leading to the death of many cattle and the family having to resort to perilous means to get the little water they can from their well.
Although over the years Rachel has impressed Isaac with her ability to stick it out and not only that become quite the help to him on their ranch, after several tragedies, the drought, and Isaac needing to go to Lead over 100 miles to the northwest, to find work in the winter, leaving Rachel and the family alone, she begins to wonder if enough is enough.
Ann Weisgarber's debut is a doozy of a novel. Having already won several awards, THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF RACHEL DuPREE is a novel readers will have trouble putting down once started. It is a testament to the author's writing skill that this reviewer stayed up into the wee hours reading two nights in a row and finished the book in two days. This is, simply put, an outstanding novel about pioneers not much has been written about - those of the Negro families trying to tame the western frontier. Rachel isn't perfect, but she is admirable with the strength to deal with more than anyone could dare imagine. This book is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys a well-written story that isn't predictable. Although women will likely enjoy this the most, there's a lot in the book that will even have men reading it. I loved the story and would highly anticipate the opportunity to read more about Rachel and her family in a sequel. Thanks, Ms. Weisgarber, for a terrific read.