Grand Central Publishing | April 1, 2002 | Trade Paperback | ISBN 0-446-67845-7
Lalita Tademy was a successful corporate vice president at a Fortune 500 company when she decided to embark upon what would become an obsessive odyssey to uncover her family's past. Through exhaustive research, interviews, and the help of professional genealogists, she would find herself transported back to the early 1800s, to an isolated, close-knit rural community on Louisiana’s Cane River. Here, Tademy takes historical fact and mingles it with fiction to weave a vivid and dramatic account of what life was like for the four remarkable women who came before her. Beginning with Tademy’s great-great-great-great grandmother Elisabeth, this is a family saga that sweeps from the early days of slavery through the Civil War into a pre-Civil Rights South’s unique and moving slice of Americas past that will resonate with readers for generations to come. Well-researched and powerfully written, Cane River is just the kind of family portrait that will appeal to the same diverse audience as Alex Haley’s bestselling phenomenon Roots (Dell Books, reissue 1980) and the New York Times bestseller Sally Heming’s (Buccaneer Books, 1992), which sold over one million hardcover copies and inspired the feature film Jefferson in Paris, starring Nick Nolte and Thandie Newton.
CANE RIVER covers 137 years of Lalita Tademy’s family’s history, written as fiction, but deeply rooted in years of research historical fact, and family lore. It is a family saga that covers four generations of women born into slavery and searching for freedom. Every time I read a story like this I am utterly outraged at the treatment that these people endured.
The story is set on Rosedew Plantation on the Cane River in Louisiana. The book traces the lives of four women: Elizabeth and her daughter Suzette; Suzette’s daughter, Philomene; and Philomene’s daughter, Emily. All four of these women had their children by white plantation owners, sometimes by choice, other times by force. However, each woman grew stronger through their experiences. The one that seemed to resonate the most with me was, Philomene.
Philomene, at age 17 had lost her two baby daughters to yellow fever and her husband, Clement, had been sold to another plantation owner in Virginia far from Cane River. Her mother, Suzette, had also been sent to another plantation. Philomene loved Clement, they had a beautiful wedding and two beautiful girls together.
Philomene had stopped talking, stopped singing, and even stopped humming. Everything that was dear to her had died or been taken away. How sad that at the young age of 17 so much pain was a daily part of this girls life. She herself said that she felt: “…used up”. Her days were drab and hard, and her nights were full to bursting with the silent grief that her isolation nourished. Loneliness had become an ugly, open sore that festered instead of healing over. She drifted on the edge of nothingness from day to day. Her deep grief was all consuming and she missed Clement so much, they went together like bread and butter and without him, a part of herself was missing. She was barren and empty, pretending to be human, imitating the things she had done before, long ago. Each morning when she awoke she was surprised that she hadn’t died of aloneness in the night before. For Philomene, this was the face of slavery. To have nothing, and still have something more to lose.
CANE RIVER was a riveting read at 522 pages and one I will surely tell friends about.