Synopses & Reviews
A unique accomplishment, this is history never before told, an epic novel of four generations of African-American women, a work based on one family's actual meticulously researched past and a book with enormous implications for us all.
Lalita Tademy had always been intensely interested in her family's stories, especially ones about her great-grandmother Emily, a formidable figure who died with her life's savings hidden in her mattress. Probing deeper for her family's roots, Tademy soon found herself swept up in an obsessive two-year odyssey and leaving her corporate career for the little Louisiana farming community of Cane River.
It was here, on a medium-sized Creole plantation owned by a family named Derbanne, that author Lalita Tademy found her family's roots and the stories of four astonishing women who battled vast injustices to create a legacy of hope and achievement. They were women whose lives began in slavery, who weathered the Civil War, and who grappled with the contradictions of emancipation through the turbulent early years of the twentieth century. Through it all, they fought to unite their family and forge success on their own terms. Here amid small farmhouses and a tightly knit community of French-speaking slaves, free people of color, and whites, Tademy's great-great-great-great grandmother Elisabeth would bear both a proud heritage and the yoke of slavery. Her youngest daughter, Suzette, would be the first to discover the promise and heartbreak of freedom. Suzette's strong-willed daughter Philomene would use determination born of tragedy to reunite her family and gain unheard-of economic independence. And Emily, Philomene's spirited daughter, would fight to secure her children's just due and preserve their future against dangerous odds.
In a novel that combines painstaking historical reconstruction with unforgettable storytelling, Lalita Tademy presents an all too rarely seen part of American history, complete with a provocative portrayal of the complex, unspoken bonds between slaves and slave owners. Most of all, she gives us the saga of real, flesh-and-blood women making hard choices in the face of unimaginable loss, securing their identity and independence in order to face any obstacle, and inspiring all the generations to come.
"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....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." Publishers Weekly
"Tademy halted a career as a high-powered technology executive to research her family's history. Her findings--four generations of strong-willed black women who survived slavery and racial injustices, maintained strong family ties, and left a legacy of faith and accomplishment--are transformed here into a powerful historical novel....Including old photographs and documents verifying the reality that underlies it, this fascinating account of American slavery and race-mixing should enthrall readers who love historical fiction." Vanessa Bush, Booklist
Based on the author's own search of her family's past, Cane River is an epic novel based on the lives of four generations of African-American women. Beginning with Tademy's great-great-great-great-grandmother, Elisabeth, this is a saga that sweeps from the early days of slavery through the Civil War and into a pre-Civil Rights South a unique and moving slice of America's past that will resonate with readers for years to come. Photos throughout.