Publishers Weekly (STARRED REVIEW)
Four generations of African-American Southerners claw their way up from the ruins of Reconstruction in this engrossing family saga by the author of the best-selling Cane River. Tademy begins with a harrowing recreation of the notorious 1873 massacre at Colfax, La., where 150 blacks, gathered in defense of local Republican officials-and their own citizenship-were killed by white supremacists. Her narrative continues into the 1930s with a fictionalized chronicle of her forebears in the Tademy and Smith clans as they struggle against poverty, buy land and pursue their dream of starting a school for African- American children, their progress challenged by floods, hunting accidents and the Ku Klux Klan. It’s an unabashed story of racial uplift (sample dialogue: “‘We getting old, and it up to us to move the race forward’”), but there’s plenty of drama and grit to keep it from becoming cloying. Through her characters, the author paints an indelible portrait of rural life under Jim Crow, built around back- breaking farm labor, blood ties that bind and chafe, and the omnipresent fear of a capricious white racism that can undo in a moment the work of a lifetime. Combining family anecdotes with historical research and a rich imagination, Tademy crafts another American epic.
Library Journal (STARRED REVIEW)
A successful black female executive, Tademy left corporate America to explore her family’s roots. Cane River, the first novel to result from her genealogical research, was a 2001 Oprah’s Book Club summer selection and a New York Times best seller. Here, the author tackles a different branch of the Tademy family tree, skillfully portraying the repercussions of what became known as the Colfax Riot. In 1873, during Reconstruction, black voters in Colfax, LA, many of whom were freed slaves, took up arms to install the legally elected white Republican Party sheriff, who was seen by angry whites as a hated carpetbagger. A violent standoff at the town courthouse resulted in great loss of life and ushered in a new era of intimidation and discrimination that many Southern blacks had hoped was ending with Reconstruction. This engrossing and eyeopening emotional family saga spans several generations while bringing an African American perspective to a very painful time in U.S. history. Strongly recommended for all fiction collections.
—Laurie A. Cavanaugh, Brockton P.L., MA
Editors’ Choice Titles
“This is not a story to go down easy, and the backwash still got hold of us today. The history of a family. The history of a country… Wasn’t no riot like they say… it was a massacre.” In 1873, five years after the Louisiana Constitution grants citizen rights to former slaves, the black men of Grant Parish risk their lives to vote, electing a Republican sheriff. When the Democratic incumbent refuses to step down, a group of black militiamen blockade the courthouse. Expecting the U.S. government to uphold the election results, the militants wait for federal reinforcements, but weeks pass and no relief appears. The white attackers finally break the impasse by setting fire to the courthouse; and a massacre ensues that includes the slaughter of four dozen unarmed blacks. Sam Tademy and Isaiah Smith (the author’s great-great-grandfathers) are two of the few survivors of the “Colfax Riot.”With a deft hand, Lalita Tademy intertwines historical events with her own ancestral story to create a novel about two families struggling to build a better world for the generations that follow. Her varied characters are unforgettable, her forthright descriptions are vivid (“The precarious relationship… crumples like a wobbly wagon wheel that finally capsizes the cart”) and her unusual use of the present tense provides immediacy while propelling the story forward.
It is accomplishment enough to write a novel that so poignantly exposes the indignities endured by one group of people during one small period of history, but the author’s stunning achievement is to tell a story that, despite its specificity of time, place, and race, universalizes both the suffering and the sacrifice. More than a family saga, Red River is a clear glass that illuminates the misery of injustice and the magnificence of sacrifice, wherever they are found. Bravo!
—Nancy J. Attwell