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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
Five generations and a hundred years in the life of a matriarchal black Louisiana family are encapsulated in this ambitious debut novel that is based in part upon the lives, as preserved in both historical record and oral tradition, of the author's ancestors. In 1834, nine-year-old Suzette, the "cocoa-colored" house servant of a Creole planter family, has aspirations to read, to live always in a "big house" and maybe even to marry into the relatively privileged world of the gens de couleur libre. Her plans are dashed, however, when at age 13 a French migr takes her as his mistress. Her "high yellow" daughter Philomene, in turn, is maneuvered into becoming the mother of Creole planter Narcisse Fredieu's "side family." After the Civil War, Philomene pins her hopes for a better future on her light-skinned daughter, Emily Fredieu, who is given a year of convent schooling in New Orleans. But Emily must struggle constantly to protect her children by her father's French cousin from terrorist "Night Riders" and racist laws. Tademy is candid about her ancestors' temptations to "pass," as their complexions lighten from the color of "coffee, to cocoa, to cream to milk, to lily." While she fully imagines their lives, she doesn't pander to the reader by introducing melodrama or sex. Her frank observations about black racism add depth to the tale, and she demonstrates that although the practice of slavery fell most harshly upon blacks, and especially women, it also constricted the lives and choices of white men. Photos of and documents relating to Tademy's ancestors add authenticity to a fascinating story. (Apr.)Forecasts: The success in recent years of similarly conceived nonfiction, like Edward Ball's Slaves in the Family, proves readers can't get enough of racially themed family history. Tademy, who left a high-level corporate job to research her family's story, should draw larger-than-average audiences for readings in 11 cities.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
What a book! Hope there will be a movie version of this. I couldn't put it down once I started reading.Published on March 15 2014 by Shopaholic
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 morePublished on July 12 2004 by D. Prince
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 morePublished on July 3 2004
This is quite a touching story. The author, Lalita Tadema, embarked on a journey to uncover the story about her family history. Read morePublished on June 2 2004 by Shirley Schwartz
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 morePublished on April 25 2004 by LoVe2ReAd
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 morePublished on March 29 2004 by Patty Philbrook