CANE RIVER tells the story of four generations of African-American women and the choices they made in order to survive slavery and tragic losses and to create a legacy for the generations to follow. Lalita Tademy bases this saga on her own family. Fascinated by family stories, Tademy began digging deeper into her family's roots, eventually becoming so caught up in it that she quit her corporate job at a Fortune 500 high-tech company to pursue the search full time. She even hired a professional genealogist to assist with the search.
Starting with family stories and a two-page family history written by her great-cousin, Tademy spent hours reviewing documents, interviewing family members and commuting between her home in California and Louisiana, the home of her ancestors. Through deeds, wills, inventories, land claims, trial proceedings, and private collections, she uncovered the complex relationships between masters and slaves and the intricacies of race, class, and community in Louisiana. Tademy brings the results of her research to CANE RIVER.
ademy starts with her great-great-great-great grandmother Elisabeth and her youngest daughter Suzette. Born into slavery and a world of French-speaking slaves, free people of color, and whites, Suzette believes in all of life's possibilities. She is unable to comprehend her mother's reservations and her emphasis on family until she's forced to confront life's realities. As her family is split apart, Suzette vows to do whatever it takes to protect her family, especially her strong-willed daughter, Philomene.
Philomene and Clement are determined to be together, and for a time they are. But again, the family is split apart. Yellow fever runs rampant, taking the master and changing the lives of both the white family and Philomene and Clement: Clement is sent to Virginia; Philomene and their twins are struck with yellow fever. Slipping in and out of consciousness, Philomene is barely aware of her mother Suzette returning to nurse her, yet totally aware that her twins are gone. Philomene sinks into despair, into silence, thinking more than she wants to. With her husband and children gone, she cherishes those left to her, realizing the full importance of family ties.
A determination to reunite and protect her family is born within Philomene, and she uses whatever means necessary to secure property and independence for them. But it doesn't prevent tragedy from striking her daughter Emily (Tademy's great-grandmother) and her family when Emily falls in love with a white man.
he strength and wisdom of these women is inspiring, and it was a treat to read a novel focusing on women in the family. Tademy's extensive research, well-drawn characters and ability to weave complex issues and historical fact into family lore make CANE RIVER a rich, fascinating, well-written epic. The history is further enhanced by the inclusion of copies of actual documents unearthed in the author's research. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can't recommend it enough.