Tag Archives: Racial Discrimination

BOOK OF LOST FRIENDS: historical fiction

Lisa Wingate has followed her bestseller, Before We Were Yours with The Book of Lost Friends.

Lost Friends is written in two converging story lines;  staged first in a poverty riddled Louisiana school room in 1987 and alternates with an intensely emotional story set around a decaying  Louisiana plantation during the Reconstruction period in 1875. It is not a happy story, the Civil War is over and the southern states are in turmoil. But it is an easy read and makes you think about the plight of women and people of color during this lawless period of time in our history.

Louisiana, 1987
“Bennie” Silva, a new college graduate, has accepted a teaching position at a poor rural Louisiana school in exchange for clearing her student debt. She finds the kids mired in poverty and without purpose beyond survival. Most see no purpose to learn about a world that has no interest in them and a different future they can’t even image much less strive to reach.

Bennie discovers a book filled with crumbling newspaper articles written by emancipated slaves and published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate. Each article a desperate plea for help in locating family members ripped apart by the auction block. This discovery becomes the catalyst to encourage Bennie’s students to learn of their own legacy and take pride in the part they play in passing that legacy on to the next generation.

Louisiana, 1875
Hannie Gossett was born a slave. In the years leading up to the Civil War, her Master, hoping to avoid the prospect of losing control of his “slave property” through emancipation,  sent all of Hannie’s extended family west to Texas where he hoped to establish a new plantation. The man overseeing the movement of the slaves sold them off one by one between Louisiana and Texas and absconded with the money. Hannie, at six years old, was the only slave from her family recovered and returned to Louisiana by the Master. She remembers that terrible time and dutifully wears her three blue beads Mama gave each family member so they might recognize each other in a chance meeting in the future.

Every chance there is, Mama says . . .[remember] who’s been carried away from us, and what’s the names of the buyers that took them from the auction block and where’re they gone to. ‘Hardy at Big Creek, to a man name LeBas from Woodville, Het at Jatt carried off by a man name Palmer from Big Woods….’

It’s now 1875. The war is over. Master Gossett is now called Mister Gossett. Missus Gossett remains a feared  cruel tyrant. The Gossett’s son, a chip off his mother’s slimy block, is in serious legal trouble out west and his father has left Louisiana for Texas to rescue him. Their daughter, Lavinia, now a young teenager, is a spoiled hate-filled brat, and much to everyone’s relief, has been shipped off to a boarding school. And Mister Gossett has a not-so-secret on-going relationship with a Creole woman that has produced his much loved mixed-race daughter, Juneau Jane. Talk about an dysfunctional family!

It’s 1875. The slaves have been “liberated” and have become sharecroppers with signed land contracts set to mature in the near future. Hannie is now eighteen-years-old and concerned for her future; distrustful of the Gossetts’ honoring the land contracts.

Mister Gossett, as stated, was en-route to Texas to rescue his son and has not been heard from for over four months. Ol’ Tati, caretaker to all the “stray children”, sends Hannie in the dark of night, disguised as a yard-boy to the big house to find their land contracts before the Missus can destroy them in the Mister’s absence.

Hannie is shocked by what she discovers when she arrives at the big house. Lavinia is home from boarding school and working with her mortal enemy, Juneau Jane, to find their father’s will and business papers! Failing to find them, Lavinia furiously orders a carriage driver to take her and Juneau Jane to see her father’s business partner. Hannie spotting a chance to find out what these two are planning, taking a chance she won’t be recognized in her disguise, drives the two half-sisters for what she believes will be a short drive to the partner’s office.

That’s it! All you are going to get from me. I’ll leave you with a clue to the book’s title.  Hannie, Juneau Jane and Lavinia travel on  a long dangerous and complicated journey. They seek refuge one night in an old building. They find the walls wallpapered with newspapers articles from the Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper. Hannie is shocked to learn the articles were written by former slaves looking for lost kin.

NOTE:
The Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper actually published a Lost Friends column beginning in 1877 and continued for over twenty years. The author based Hannie, Lavinia, and Juneau Jane on an article written by a former slave named Caroline Flowers.

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WESTERING WOMEN: historical fiction

WESTERING WOMEN

Sandra Dallas
St. Martin’s Press
Historical Fiction
January 2020 – ARC Netgalley  ★★★☆☆

If you are an adventuresome young woman of high moral character and fine health, are you willing to travel to California in search of a good husband? Do you want to instill God and Civilization and Righteousness in the westernmost part of our country?

What to do on a rainy day and suffering a 9.0 Richter scale head cold? Snuggle with a book with a simple and entertaining story-line. Sitting in my email inbox that morning, was an offer from St. Martin’s Press to read Westering Women in exchange for my review; a promising choice. Serendipity.

Being an adventuresome old woman, not necessarily of high moral character, I decided to  spent the day traveling with forty-three woman in a train of prairie schooners heading from St. Joe, Missouri to California. The book amused me but I won’t say it made me feel like I connected with the characters. As a woman born at a time when my father had to sign for my first credit card, I could relate to many of the misogynistic scenes; there were times I could see where the use of a good war club might serve as an attitude adjuster.

But there is always a place for a good sappy read that tosses out obvious hints and clues well in advance. It doesn’t take a genius to see where scolding a bratty child repeatedly be careful while crossing a raging river and being repeatedly ignored might lead to tragedy. Staying with that scene, days later the mother just hitches up her skirt and says … Oh,well. Life goes on. She’s with Jesus. I don’t have to worry about her anymore.

There was a healthy dose of Christianity sprinkled everywhere like holy water. Not a surprise to the reader as the trip was sponsored and led by two preachers. At the same time, the travelers’ faith comforted them and sustained them through, what was surely true in 1850s dash across the continent, soul bending moments.

As expected, not every woman on the journey headed out through hell and high water to get a husband. The twelve or so main characters each have a hidden secret that is revealed in the fullness of time.

There were the inevitable accidentals, cholera death, and clashes with Native Americans. Fragile women escaped brutal husbands and every man they encountered on the journey seemed to want “carnal knowledge” or provide a sound beating to the woman who dared to escape their wrath; justification in my mind to head west to start over leaving bozos behind – but as expected, the bozos just had to track down the women and give them grief; bad move guys. Don’t attack a pack of feisty women.

Let it be said that this old gal did raise a hand in salute at the strength and determination of the women to form a cohesive sisterhood; broken women can heal like a broken bone – stronger in the end.

Sandra Dallas fans will enjoy the story. As I said in the beginning, I enjoyed the read. Didn’t strain the brain and was an easy read that I never felt I had to just put it down. I will admit to a couple of -“on come on, really?” moments.

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GIVER OF STARS: a novel

6-minute audio with former pack horse librarian

Alice asked Margery, “If you’ve never been further than. . . Lewisburg. . . how is it you know so much about animals in Africa?” Margery yanks her mule to a halt. “Are you seriously asking me that question? ” The answer of course is because of books. Books that brought stories of Africa to Appalachia. . .

In the midst of the Great Depression, Eastern Kentucky was among those states most severely economically impacted. Thirty percent of the state was illiterate. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative, The Pack Horse Library project, implemented by the Works Progress Administration in 1934 brought hope of a better future through literacy. The project provided jobs to local pack horse riders, mostly women, with a salary of  $28 a month ($495 in today’s dollars).  The project ended in 1943 with the ramp up to World War II and the elimination of the WPA projects.

The Pack Horse program was not immediately accepted by the mountain folks. Literacy threatened the status quo.  “Families should be reading the Bible. Nothing else.”  “We are struggling to control what influences are coming in and out of our own homes.”

Jojo Moyes, known for her numerous heartwarming romance novels, several made into movies (Me Before You) has written her first historical fiction featuring the Pack Horse Library project. Fans of her romance fiction will not be disappointed.

GIVER OF STARS, set in eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression, features a coterie of fictional pack horse librarians – Margery O’Hare, the daughter of a cruel and deceitful bootlegger heads the group. A woman comfortable in her own skin, outspoken and independent; preferring life alone in the wilds of the mountains. A woman stained by her family legacy. Alice Van Cleve, the daughter of wealthy English parents, newly wed to Bennett Van Cleve, the  son of a cruel American coal mine baron; her new life filled with coal dust and pack horses not racing thoroughbreds and Mint Juleps. Izzy, the reclusive daughter of local parents; the victim of polio. Beth, the daughter of a local farmer, and Sophia, the African-American sister of a crippled miner and a trained librarian from Louisville.

The town residents and the folks up  and down the hollers and along the creek beds include a destitute and distrustful father struggling to raise his motherless daughters, a few pompous asses of the human kind, most notably, Alice’s father-in-law, and a miner with a heart of gold and a determination to marry the wild child, Margery.

The novel is packed tightly with a whole slew of themes that are examined closely and intimately at times; some painful, some joyous, most true-to-life and a couple dragged out too long. Overall an enjoyable read that brings the reader into the beauty of the mountains at a time when nature is threatened by mining and the isolated residents face a paradigm shift in long-held traditions, gender roles and racial discrimination.

Jojo Moyes and “Giver of Stars” and a second novel by Kim Michelle Richardson entitled “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” were published in 2019 within months of each other and have been the subject of some controversy. Some critics feel elements of “Giver of Stars” closely resemble those in “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek”. Both novels cover the Pack Horse Librarian project. Be that as it may – both novels have been very popular and Richardson’s novel is on my TBR list.

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