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The Tobacco Wives


The Tobacco Wives

In her debut novel, THE TOBACCO WIVES, Adele Myers has constructed a disturbing, realistic view of the once-mighty tobacco industry and its perfidies as observed by a feisty lady.

Maddie Sykes is a teenager dealing with two tragedies --- her father’s sudden demise in war and her mother’s inability to cope with the realities arising from that loss. Though it feels traumatic at the time, her mother’s abrupt desertion and her transferal to the care of her Aunt Etta in Bright Leaf, North Carolina, are factors that will guide her to grow up, embracing a new ethic and taking on an important crusade. Maddie is, like her mother and aunt, a practiced seamstress. Life in the big city of Bright Leaf allows special scope for that trade, since the wealthy wives of tobacco magnates attend numerous parties and celebrations that require constantly renewing their wardrobes for every occasion.

"Adele Myers has constructed a disturbing, realistic view of the once-mighty tobacco industry and its perfidies as observed by a feisty lady."

Through Etta, Maddie meets Mitzi Winston, the wife of the most powerful of those movers and shakers, and will be invited to live in Mitzi's sumptuous abode as she plies her trade. An initial visit to a tobacco factory is depressing, the only positive being the employment of many women as the men have gone off to war. But when the men return, she is told that all those females will be out of work, already paid only a fraction of what their husbands would earn.

However, that isn’t the most disturbing discovery Maddie confronts. The other concerns the dangers to women’s health, especially for those who are pregnant, from cigarettes, which are gaily advertised to target female smokers. Once she learns the truth by accident and subterfuge about tobacco’s evils, Maddie feels that she must do something. The immediate effects of her disclosure result only in further underhanded dealings and rank hypocrisy by those in power in the cigarette industry. But they will provide Maddie with a banner of righteousness that she will carry for the next 40 years. Her zeal for battling the tobacco industry will never fade.

Myers grew up in North Carolina. Her grandmother was a hairdresser for “the tobacco wives” --- glamorous and powerful females in Winston-Salem (doubtless the model for her fictional Bright Leaf), where large tobacco factories used the products of local farmers to satisfy and addict millions of smokers worldwide. The book’s time frame, from the 1950s to the 1990s, focuses on the heyday of that industry and the brink of its national downturn, based on the very health concerns cited in these pages.

THE TOBACCO WIVES will have wide appeal, with its focus on southern American history, the perils of tobacco use, and the strengths of women seen through Maddie’s increasingly blighted vision of the lives of America’s wealthy --- and all too often malevolent --- power brokers. 

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on March 18, 2022

The Tobacco Wives
by Adele Myers

  • Publication Date: March 28, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0063082942
  • ISBN-13: 9780063082946