From Book Stores….
“I can’t stop telling everyone who will listen about CANE RIVER.”
—Elaine Petrocelli, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA
”I enjoyed this book so much, I would get up early to read before going to work….This is a common story in our country’s past but I felt Ms. Tademy wrote so well, and with her documentation put a fresh approach to this sad story. I hope she writes more.”
—Dee Miller, Volume One Book Shop, Dickson, TN
”CANE RIVER is an incredible act of love. Astory of three generations of strong women, slaves and the complexity of their lives, and the importance of family. Lalita Tademy has imbued life and blood into her family history, capturing you with her first sentence and only releasing you with her final word.”
—Amy Loewy, Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans, LA
”CANE RIVER exceeds and excels on every level. I think a new thesaurus would have to be published to find the right words to describe CANE RIVER! I was awed! I can’t remember reading a first novel that has so impressed me or moved me in years. The only book I could come close to comparing CANE RIVER with would be Margaret Walker’s novel Jubilee….CANE RIVER will be one of those books I will indeed reread. It is like listening to a great symphony; one does not tire from hearing it played many times. Thus it is with CANE RIVER. This wonderful first novel will not leave one satisfied with just one reading.”
—Everett Barrineau, retired Penguin/Putnam sales rep, and 1999 SEBA Rep of the Year
“Absolutely loved it!! CANE RIVER is one of those few novels that must be read and read again to fully understand the characters and their culture, their feelings and their history.”
—Jeri Myrick, Booktraders of Arkansas, Conway, AR
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.
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. The tale is told from the perspectives of Suzette, Philomene, and Emily, all born and raised in a small farming community in Louisiana. Suzette was raped by one of her master’s relatives, and this set a pattern of race-mixing for her descendants. Philomene, Suzette’s daughter, is desired by a powerful white man, Narcisse, and, after her slave husband is sold away and she loses her children, succumbs to his attentions. But she uses her sexual allure and a gift for premonition to secure protection and, after slavery ends, land and education for her family. Philomene’s fierce determination reconstitutes the family on land she has secured from Narcisse. She is also determined that her daughter, Emily, will have every possible advantage, including, eventually, a wealthy white protector. Throughout three generations, however, none of the women escapes the social conventions forbidding interracial marriages; each is abandoned or driven away when her white protector wants to produce legal progeny. The incidental, progressive whitening of the family ends when Emily’s son, T. O., marries a dark-skinned woman and reclaims his racial identity, inaugurating the line from which Tademy comes. 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.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.
Imagine revisiting Margaret Mitchell’s Tara around the time Atlanta was burning. Plantation owners fighting for a lifestyle. Trusted family retainers as confused as their owners about which way the wind was blowing. Sultry days and delicately scented nights at odds with the violence that rages not so far away. This time, however, the view is from the quarter rather than the manor and the differences are as eye-opening as the commonalties. Of course, it’s not Tara, or even Atlanta. First time novelist Lalita Tademy has set her epic at the foot of her own roots: Cane River: “a community that stretched nineteen miles along a river in central Louisiana where Creole French planters, free people of color, and slaves coexisted in convoluted and sometimes nonstereotypical ways.” Corporate climber Tademy was a vice-president at Sun Microsystems when her muse started screaming. As she writes in the Author’s Note that precedes Cane River: In 1995, driven by a hunger I could not name, I surprised myself and quit my job, walking away from a coveted position for which I had spent my life preparing. Crossing back and forth from California to Louisiana, I interviewed family members and local historians learning just how tangled the roots of family trees could become. Cane River is a work of fiction “deeply rooted in years of research, historical fact, and family lore.” Tademy has used that research as the superstructure of the work she has created, filling in the necessary blanks with possibilities and shots of her own intuition. Tademy’s musings on “what might have been” are occasionally illustrated by bits of the past: newspaper clippings, bills of sale, photographs. The resulting book is a captivating blend of fact and fiction as well as proof positive from a bright, new talent. The story begins in 1834 where we meet the cook Elisabeth and her nine-year-old daughter Suzette who is destined for service in the house, not the field. As she has been house raised, both maid and companion to the young ward of her employer, Suzette has a hunger for something other than what’s on offer and is dismayed when her mother discourages her aspirations. ”You’ll see the sense of our ways, the advantages of how we do things, after you’ve been here a while, Eugene,” Suzette’s owner tells a (free, white) newcomer from France. “The plantation is the fulfillment of God’s design.” Though she lives to see freedom, Suzette’s life is not easy and, after a time, when her master dies and her family is broken up, she discovers why her mother took such a circumspect stance. In all, we chart seven generations of strong women — from Suzette’s mother Elisabeth all the way to author Tademy — in a spellbinding matriarchal tale. Tademy colors all of the detail that history can not provide and her family story springs to life. Does Cane River illustrate precisely how it was for these women? It hardly matters, the author keeps us rapt with the texture she puts down. A quibble: the skeleton of Tademy’s story is epic and seems to beg a story of epic proportions. While the author embarks in that direction, around the middle of the book she seems to lose steam and never really recover. As I said: it’s a quibble. Cane River is solid and well told: it’s a very good book.
However, the push that would have made it a great book — the layers and depth that would have also made it a longer book — are lacking. Aside from a summing up, the story ends at the early part of the 20th century. Had Tademy told all she wanted? Or is she holding the rest of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st back for a sequel? I suspect this might be the case. Really, however, it doesn’t matter. Cane River is a well-conceived story that deals with a very important part of American history that has seldom been recreated in fiction with such grace and dignity.
—Linda Richards, editor of January Magazine
From Good Housekeeping…
“…a unique and absorbing historical novel that opens a window onto a disturbing period of American history…The excerpt stirred discussion among our staff; our editors found it compelling and thought-provoking. We think you will too.”
“Extraordinary…illuminates the soul of heritage…historical fiction of the highest order.”
“Evocative and convincing.”
—Washington Post Book World
“Astonishing…bold, breathtaking, and unforgettable.”
“A long-overdue response to Alex Haley’s Roots.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Strongly written…[a] proud saga of survival.”
“[Celebrates] the resourcefulness and resilience of people trapped in a system perversely dedicated to destroying those very qualities.”
—Washington Post Book World
“A remarkable and unusual story…pulls us powerfully into the life of a family….With a clear vision, and a beautiful, straightforward style, Tademy avoids the temptation to make her tale polemical. Not that she doesn’t score political points with smooth, deft prose.”
“Spellbinding…will bring you to tears…written with such rich detail that it’s easy to forget it is a novel.”
—Detroit Free Press
“Tademy has a canny historical eye….She has rescued these black women from the shameful annals of Mammy and Jezebel, of tragic mulattas, and makes of them gratifyingly imperfect heroines.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
—Ellen Levine, editor in chief, Good Housekeeping
“An accomplished…richly textured family saga that resonates with intelligence and empathy.”
“Powerful…so compelling you’ll want to read it in one sitting…rich with fascinating detail…a journey well worth taking….The families of CANE RIVER will haunt you long after you’ve shared their stories of suffering, abuse, joy, love, separation, reunion, hard work, survival, triumph.”
—San Jose Mercury News
“a skilled storyteller able to present the past with power and poignancy