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Tag: North America

Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Wench tells of four women slaves who travel with their masters each summer to Tawawa House, a resort in Ohio, a free state. For the women, it is a working vacation, where they have enough leisure to swim in the hot springs and take occasional short trips. Yet even as they are dressed prettily for a special dinner-dance with their masters, they cannot forget that they are slaves, each compelled to share her master’s bed and bear his children. The…

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The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child is inspired by the Russian folk tale of an elderly couple who, unable to have children, used snow to form a girl who then comes to life. This novel takes place in 1920s Alaska instead of Russia, and the “elderly” couple, Mabel and Jack, are about fifty years old. Ten years have passed since Mabel gave birth to a still-born child in Pennsylvania, and her grief, and the loneliness she feels at family gatherings full of children,…

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Cane River, by Lalita Tademy

Cane River, by Lalita Tademy

The novel Cane River is so closely based on Lalita Tademy’s ancestors that she includes family photographs, documents, and newspaper clippings. In 1995, Tademy quit her job as a vice president of Sun Microsystems so she could research her family’s history and write a novel. Cane River was published in 2001. Tademy starts her novel with the story of a woman seven generations removed from herself: Elisabeth, a slave in the early 1800’s on a plantation along Cane River in…

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The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

First published in 1982, The Color Purple turns 35 this year (2017). The novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and was made into an award-winning movie in 1985. The photo above is from the cover of her biography, Alice Walker: A Life. The time and place of this novel are obscure at first, because the narrator is an uneducated young woman who doesn’t supply this information. The details of her life give us clues: this…

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The Tall Woman, by Wilma Dykeman

The Tall Woman, by Wilma Dykeman

The Tall Woman, first published in 1962, is a classic of Appalachian literature. At the time of her birth, author Wilma Dykeman’s family had resided in the mountains of North Carolina for generations, and the novel takes place in these mountains during and after the Civil War. The novel follows the main character, Lydia, from young womanhood to death. Shortly after their marriage her husband, Mark, decides to join the war effort on the Union side, while her father and…

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Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, was inspired by the story of escaped slave Margaret Garner, who killed her own child when she and her family were about to be recaptured by slave-hunters. In an interview in the New York Times, Morrison says that while she became fascinated by Garner’s story, she also wanted to be free to create the character herself. ”Now I didn’t do any more research at all about that story. I…

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Property, by Valerie Martin

Property, by Valerie Martin

The title of this short novel could be read in multiple ways: “property” refers to the slave, Sarah, owned by the main character, a white woman named Manon. It could also refer to Manon herself, who is in a way the “property” of her husband. When Manon inherits her mother’s house, it is by law her husband’s property, since she “belongs” to him. Property was first published in 2003 and won the Orange Prize for Fiction by a female author…

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Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls

Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls calls Half Broke Horses a “true-life novel” because although she based it on the life of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, she tells the story in first person (re-creating Lily’s voice) and she also imagined details to fill in the gaps of the real story. In the author’s note at the end of the book, Walls says, “My grandmother was quite a character.” She is indeed. Her voice jumps off every page as we follow her through the…

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Waterlily, by Ella Cara Deloria

Waterlily, by Ella Cara Deloria

Waterlily was originally written in the 1940’s but not published until 1988, after the author’s death. This novel about the life of a Dakota woman and her family in the mid-1800’s, just as European-Americans were beginning to encroach on the land where the Plains Indians lived, is based on the author’s ancestors. November is a great time to read this book, since we are celebrating Native American Heritage Month. Ella Cara Deloria was born on the Yankton Sioux reservation and…

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Jubilee, by Margaret Walker

Jubilee, by Margaret Walker

If you are looking for a non-racist alternative to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, here it is: Jubilee. Written by an African-American woman and first published in 1966, Jubilee is a fictionalized account of the author’s great-grandmother’s experiences before, during, and after the Civil War. The photo above shows Walker’s great-grandmother, the “Vyry” of the novel. She took after her white slave-owner father in the color of her skin. I found this photo on the U Space Gallery web site….

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