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The Personal History Of Rachel Dupree [Paperback]

Ann Weisgarber
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

April 17 2009

Short-listed for the Orange Award for New Writers

Long-listed for the Orange Prize

Winner of the Texas Institute of Letters Debut Novel Prize

It is 1917 in the South Dakota Badlands, and summer has been hard. Fourteen years have passed since Rachel and Isaac DuPree left Chicago to stake a claim in this unforgiving land. Isaac, a former Buffalo Soldier, is fiercely proud: black families are rare in the West, and black ranchers even rarer.

But it hasn’t rained in months, the cattle bellow with thirst, and supplies are dwindling. Pregnant, and struggling to feed her family, Rachel is isolated by more than just geography. She is determined to give her surviving children the life they deserve, but she knows that her husband will never leave his ranch: land means a measure of equality with the white man, and Isaac DuPree is not about to give it up just because times are hard. Somehow Rachel must find the strength to do what is right – for her children, for her husband, and for herself.

Moving and majestic, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is an unforgettable novel about love and loyalty, homeland and belonging. Above all, it is the story of one woman’s courage in the face of the most punishing adversity.


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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.


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4.0 out of 5 stars Persevere Nov. 28 2011
By Luanne Ollivier #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I broke my own rule while reading The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber - I flipped forward and read ahead. And then went back to slowly enjoy the story of Rachel DuPree. I became so invested in her trials and tribulations that I had to know what was going to happen next.

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.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  78 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big Hearted Nov. 16 2009
By Douglas R. Worgul - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The best novels put you not just in a place and time other than your own, they put your soul inside the soul and body of another. You live this person's pain, sorrow, fear, confusion, satisfaction, enlightenment, and joys with them. And when you're done, you're changed. The story you have finished is now, in part, your story. It's become a part of your DNA.

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.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting, different. Jan. 7 2010
By L. Stafford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've recommended this book to everyone I know, and everyone loves it. Absolutely loves it. My book club, my sisters, my husband. Everyone is wondering when the sequel will come it. Unfortunately, I don't think a sequel is planned but it is still a great read and interesting to consider what might come next. It starts off in a very tense situation and continues to grab the readers attention. The story is that a young black mand and woman in Chicago in the early part of the 20th century want to ranch out west. Well, he wants to ranch out west and she wants to get out of Chicago and experience adventure with this life and with this intense man. It is a hard, lonely life, and the husband is willing to sacrifice almost anything to acquire more land and more cattle. I liked being taken to that time and place. It felt like I was there. It is a short book and the pages turn very quickly. Cancel your plans for the evening if you start reading this book today.

I haven't written many (or any?) book reviews before.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars African-American Historical Fiction June 21 2010
By Ursula K. Raphael - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I selected this book because I lived in South Dakota for a long time, and I still have family there, so I was very familiar with the setting. I was surprised that someone wrote a story involving the Badlands from the POV of an African-American woman named Rachel living on a struggling ranch.

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.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Living In A Dust Bowl Sept. 24 2010
By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Twenty-five year old Rachel Reeves worked in Mrs. DuPree's boarding house for African-American men since she was seventeen and never laid eyes on Mrs. Dupree's son, Isaac. When he comes home from fighting in the Civil War and she sees him for the first time, she immediately falls in love. She is fascinated with his dream to ranch in the Badlands of South Dakota and his proposed plan to take her along. If she agrees to marry him, he will be able to double his land, but she must forfeit her share of land.

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
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SIMPLY OUTSTANDING!! Sept. 3 2010
By Maudeen Wachsmith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
It's the early 19 C. and 25-year-old Rachel Reeves has been cooking at Mrs. DuPree's boarding house for eight years, sharing her wages with her parents. She's had her share of potential suitors but they have all been "slaughterhouse men" like her now-crippled father. She knows from experience that killing animals could turn a man mean and bitter or lead him to drink and that's not the life she wants.

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.
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