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Amaryllis in Blueberry
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Amaryllis in Blueberry

3.5 24
by Christina Meldrum

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In the stirring tradition of The Secret Life of Bees and The Poisonwood Bible, Amaryllis in Blueberry explores the complexity of human relationships set against an unforgettable backdrop. Told through the haunting voices of Dick and Seena Slepy and their four daughters, Christina Meldrum’s soulful novel weaves together the past and the


In the stirring tradition of The Secret Life of Bees and The Poisonwood Bible, Amaryllis in Blueberry explores the complexity of human relationships set against an unforgettable backdrop. Told through the haunting voices of Dick and Seena Slepy and their four daughters, Christina Meldrum’s soulful novel weaves together the past and the present of a family harmed—and healed—by buried secrets.

“Maybe, unlike hope, truth couldn’t be contained in a jar. . . .”

Meet the Slepys: Dick, the stern doctor, the naïve husband, a man devoted to both facts and faith; Seena, the storyteller, the restless wife, a mother of four, a lover of myth. And their children, the Marys: Mary Grace, the devastating beauty; Mary Tessa, the insistent inquisitor; Mary Catherine, the saintly, lost soul; and finally, Amaryllis, Seena’s unspoken favorite, born with the mystifying ability to sense the future, touch the past, and distinguish the truth tellers from the most convincing liar of all.

When Dick insists his family move from Michigan to the unfamiliar world of Africa for missionary work, he can’t possibly foresee how this new land and its people will entrance and change his daughters—and himself—forever.

Nor can he predict how Africa will spur his wife Seena toward an old but unforgotten obsession. In fact, Seena may be falling into a trance of her own. . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Meldrum's intoxicating first adult novel (after 2010's Madapple) a family undertakes West African missionary work only to find its members profoundly transformed. Polish-American pathologist Dick Slepy lives with his bohemian wife, Christina "Seena," in Danish Landing, Mich. They have four daughters, each following the other by two years. There's pretty Mary Grace, now 18. Mary Catherine is "always-obedient" and pious, whereas Mary Tessa is a "trouble-maker-in-training," and the precocious Amaryllis, their youngest at 11, is an"emotional synesthete," who tastes, smells, and otherwise "consumes" the pain, rage, love, or joy of others, and is suspiciously dark-featured. Fearing that his wife is having an affair, Dick seeks the council of his local priest, Father Amadi, who suggests the Slepys take a mission to West Africa to help his nephew, Mawuli, run an aid organization. They go, but the mission is anything but the salve Dick had hoped for, and one event after another—including unplanned pregnancies, accusations of molestation, the discovery of affairs, attempted murder, and Seena being tried in a local court—shove the family into deep crisis. With every chapter, Meldrum jumps viewpoints and shifts time and space (between Michigan and West Africa in the summer and fall of 1976), creating a momentum that masks a lack of imagination. Yet her combination of coming-of-age and culture clash narratives has a seductive intensity. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“A gripping and satisfying read. First you'll race to the end, then you'll tell everyone you know to read it—partly for their benefit, partly so you'll be able to talk about it with someone.” —Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay It Forward, Becoming Chloe, Jumpstart the World

"Intoxicating... [Meldrum's] combination of coming-of-age and culture clash narratives has a seductive intensity." — Publisher's Weekly

"With Amaryllis in Blueberry, Christina Meldrum has woven a beautifully layered, intensely emotional story, with unforgettable characters whose voices will remain with you long after their secrets have been revealed." —Michelle Richmond, author of the New York Times and international bestseller The Year of Fog

"Christina Meldrum pierces the facade of a middle American family, exposing the heart of each individual through the unflinching voices of the others. Her keen, distinct prose pulls you into a world both mystical and recognizable. A uniquely memorable read that will stay with you long after you turn the last page." — Carol Cassella, national bestselling author of Oxygen and Healer

“Meldrum keeps the reader wanting to know more about the family through carefully intertwined story lines . . . Readers will compare this work to Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible—and that is OK. It involves a different family in a different set of circumstances but with the same satisfying result.” – Library Journal

Library Journal
This introspective novel by YA author Meldrum (Madapple) tells the story of Dr. Dick Slepy, his wife, and four daughters who move from Michigan to West Africa in 1976 to continue his family's medical missionary heritage. It is the reasoning behind this trip that pulls the reader into questioning the motivation and conviction of each of the characters. Meldrum's plot, chapter by chapter, delves into the self-centered beliefs of the Slepys as they find themselves in a remote, dusty community full of ritual and tradition. Amaryllis, the youngest daughter, has the best insight thanks to her synesthesia. Meldrum keeps the reader wanting to know more about the family through carefully intertwined story lines. VERDICT Readers will compare this work to Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible—and that is OK. It involves a different family in a different set of circumstances but with the same satisfying result.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL
Kirkus Reviews

Meldrum's story about an anything-but-ordinary family in crisis stretches from the shores of a Michigan lake to the heart of West Africa.

The Slepys seem like a perfect family: Dad, Dick, is a pathologist who fell in love with Christina, who prefers to be called Seena, when he sat behind her in a college class. Their daughters, Mary Grace, Mary Catherine, Mary Tessa and Amaryllis, are both as similar and as different as siblings can be. The three Marys are blond and beautiful, as ephemeral as their Scandinavian-looking parents. But Amaryllis, known simply as Yllis, is not. Birthed in a blueberry field, she is dark, with blue eyes, and has a special gift that allows her to taste emotions and see souls. Dick, who rightly suspects he is not the father of his youngest child, suddenly decides he wants to move the family to West Africa. Seena argues against it, but Yllis detects that she really wants to go. Grace, who carries a secret with her, gives up college, and the entire family, including the devoutly religious Catherine, mean-to-the-bone Tessa and the family dog, packs up and goes. Soon they are caught up in odd dramas that include a pending marriage with a strange man, Catherine's dive into anorexia and the growing chasm between Dick and Seena. Meldrum writes beautifully, but the characters are hard to like and care about. Dick and Seena are so caught up in their own personal dramas that they fail to intervene as the family falls apart. Yllis, who has sensed she is not Dick's child, watches as her aloof, self-absorbed parents disintegrate in spectacular fashion in an inhospitable setting. But the family's move to West Africa, the story of Clara, an old woman back in Michigan, and the trajectory of all their intersecting destinies make for some confusing, though interesting, storytelling.

The book opens with Seena on trial in a native African court for Dick's murder and works its way back to that point in a colorful tale about people who don't know how to communicate with one another.

Product Details

Gallery Books
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

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West Africa

Dick is dead. Seena knows this, of course: her husband is dead. Yet she keeps expecting him to barrel in, his enormous, gangling self plodding along, a spectacle unaware that he is one. Was one, she thinks. Was one. Still, she finds herself waiting for him to call out, make some pointless point, make it clear to everyone that he just doesn’t get it. She anticipates the annoyance she so often would feel around him. She almost longs for it—this longing he’d disappear, shut up, let her be. Because he has disappeared, shut up, let her be. He is dust from dust. Ashes from ashes. As dead as a doornail.

And she has the devil to pay.

Like Dick would say, “The devil take the hindmost.”

Dick’s moved on, and she’s left to pay. Alone.

Because he did get it, more than she did—she knows this. But the recognition came only after the trigger was pulled, so to speak, after the poison went flying, when it pierced his pale chest, when it was long past too late. Now she understands she was the spectacle unaware: she was the fool.

And she wonders, How can you live with someone for years—know the softening ring around his still-thin waist, the changed texture of his graying stubble, the scent in the hollow beneath his Adam’s apple—and see only your imagination reflected?

Seena is on trial in a village in West Africa, in a “customary court.” The courthouse is the schoolhouse, transformed. The village elders—one a witch doctor, one a queen—are her accusers, judge and jury. She was indignant when she learned this, sure it couldn’t be. She’s an American, she’d said. She’s entitled to due process. “These customary courts, they must be illegal. There are laws—aren’t there?—even here, even in this hell?”

But she’s a murderer, the elders said: she’s entitled to nothing. “Our courts are based on our traditions, which are different from yours. Americans think they alone make laws, but we have our own rule.”

They have their own rule.

“Christina Slepy?” the witch doctor, this so called “wise man,” says. He speaks to Seena, and watches her. Every person in the crowded room watches her; she feels this. And she knows if she were to look up at them, she would see only the whites of their eyes, and perhaps a shock of color from clothes that now seem mocking. They’ve told her the reasons women kill, and they’ve told her no matter her reason, she had no right. Still, they demand to know her reason, and she wonders which to choose. Which would they believe, or not? Which would solicit less loathing?

Even as she ponders these questions, she is aware she has no idea what they would believe, or not—no idea of the seed of their loathing, the fruit of their pity, whether they ever would feel pity for her. This is a world of rules turned inside out, a world where all she took for granted has been stripped away. She is a carcass, ripped clean of flesh. A skeleton of holes. No longer can her mind set her apart, give her that private space where the real world could seem a dream. No longer can she fill her holes with assumptions: that rationality wins in the end, that humans have rights, that white humans have rights. She never appreciated this distinction before—appreciated that she made this distinction. She never thought of herself as racist. Dick was a racist, she knew. Not a malicious racist. A do-good kind of racist. A feel-sorry-for kind of racist. A thank-God-I’m-white kind of racist: there but for the grace of God go I. But not her. Not her. How could she be racist, given the only man she’d ever loved?

Yet she set foot in this dusty African world never believing its dust and rules would apply to her, her children, her mind. But why wouldn’t they apply? Because she’s white, she thought, that’s why. Only, she didn’t really think this, she knew this. It was in her flesh—what made her feel whole. She never had to think it; it just was. She never had to come to terms with being racist; she just was. As she sits here condemned, she knows this. And she knows she should be condemned, if for this reason alone—especially given her child of light.

“Do you have anything to say?” asks the elder, who is not even old. He is forty perhaps. At max. And Seena thinks, He is neither wise nor old, yet he has the power of Zeus, here. He and the queen of this village—Avone—are the gods of this universe, painting this African sky. Painting me, the African version of Clytemnestra.

“What don’t I have to say?” she would like to say. “You want me to admit guilt? I’ll admit it. I came here having little respect for your beliefs and laws and I flouted them willingly. You want me to say I hated my husband—that I wanted him dead so I could be free to love my lover? I’ll say it. You want me to tell you I committed adultery and squandered the welfare of my children for the sake of lust while I spit in God’s face. It’s all true.”

“No,” she says. “I have nothing to say.”

© 2011 Christina Meldrum

Meet the Author

Christina Meldrum received her Bachelor of Arts in religious studies and political science from the University of Michigan. After working in grassroots development in Africa, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. She has worked for the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, Switzerland, and as a litigator at the law firm of Shearman & Sterling. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and is on the advisory board of Women of the World Investments.

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Amaryllis in Blueberry 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
BookHounds More than 1 year ago
All I can say is WOW! This book reminds me when I first read The Help and The Secret Life of Bees and has a very strong balance of characters that will make you think. This is going to be THE book for book groups this year and one that I can't stop thinking about or telling people about. The story revolves around 4 sisters and their mother and the father is the catalyst for their actions. Each girl tells her own story and relates the events through their own eyes while interweaving the story between them. Seena, the mother, is the cornerstone and finds ways to intertwine Greek mythology while relating her own history. Each of the Mary's, Grace, Catie and Tessa are the core while Amaryllis, while still a Mary, is not truly one of the family. Each one is so distinct and the plot so well developed that I hate even saying one word about it because you must read this book! Just Added: The ideal of all the girls named Mary is not that uncommon. My French - Indian Grandmother was one of seven girls all named Mary and of course they went by their middle names. From what I remember, it was a Catholic thing. There are two girls in my family, but I am the only Mary.
pattypetrie More than 1 year ago
Christina Meldrum is an exquisite writer. Amaryllis in Blueberry is scintilating, tantalizing and every morsel is pure delight. Her depiction of an American family in Africa is breathtaking and profoundly informative. I could not put the book down.
MelissaAaberg More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Meldrum writes in such a clear and compelling way. Her descriptions are lovely and I enjoyed all the references to the 70s. The story moves along at a nice pace and is well thought out. It brought to mind one of my favorite books, "The Secret Life of Bees". Definitely a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed in the story line but also, the writing. I skimmed and tried to read a chapter, here and there,  but could not get through them.   I felt the author chose many descriptive  words, through out her book, that the average reader would never use let alone understand what the words meant.  It felt like overkill.  Too much jumping back and forth and could find even a small amount of "happy" or warmth to the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TheStephanieLoves More than 1 year ago
Review: Embarking on tragedy, Amaryllis in Blueberry is a deep, probing novel surrounding the implications and consequences of neglect, unfaithfulness, and ignorance upon a middle-class suburban family whose fate is redirected as a result of thoughtless actions and their reckless outcomes. As a whole, I feel this book tries too hard to have as profound an effect as The Poisonwood Bible did, with a reference right inside the jacket flap. Now, I've read The Poisonwood Bible and it's one of my favorites; I know Amaryllis in Blueberry is not exactly the same—the themes, morals, and overall effect are all different—but the premise itself is one that cannot be created without being compared: a mother, father, and four daughters are plucked out of Betty Crocker America and plopped into the wilderness that is Africa, and their lives are changed forever. Here's a line that sums up the Slepys:  "[They] are all islands unto themselves, and while each island may have clean water and electricity and toilets that flush, being isolated on an island is lonely indeed." Each of the characters, while extensively explored and unrooted, are at their foundation, very shallow. I didn't particularly like or dislike any of them. Dick Slepy, head of household, is extremely ordinary and particularly foolish for constantly urging the impossible: "[He] thinks he can will himself a Dane and will his wife affectionate and will his children respectful, [and also] thinks demanding a perfect family, while snapping a photo of what looks like one, is the equivalent of having one." Seena, on the other hand, is complex and ephemeral, like the angel of death herself, but she's equally out of touch with reality, and so even though Meldrum does fabulously at portraying her mother's perspective, I didn't know whether to have compassion or resentment for her. Seena's actions are the pivot point of the entire novel, and their repercussions will take away breaths, taint souls, smother goodness, stain lives, and stalk her forever; this in and of itself was fascinating to read, fascinating discover how small acts of selfishness and of passion could unravel and destroy what's left of everything. Stylistically Amaryllis in Blueberry is profuse in description, but still frustratingly vague. While I liked the richness, I found Meldrum's prose too redundant and syrupy at times. However, in terms of message and delivery, I was awed by the convoluted, conscious way in which the painful truths of the human heart are presented in the backdrop of Africa. The last few chapters will especially consume—and not to mention, confuse—you, so even thought it starts off sluggishly, I definitely recommend reading it until the very end. Pros: Fantastic biblical allusions and references to Greek mythology // Gorgeous prose // Vivid, memorable, and well-expressed characters // Poignant, tender message about humanity and society Cons: Flowery language that isn't as penetrating as it would like to be; I had to reread some sentences several times to get their meanings // Far-fetched attempt at imitating The Poisonwood Bible Love: "... Envy is not green. And rage isn't red hot, and the blues have nothing to do with blue. Envy is more dust-colored, a transparent sort of gray. It quivers, like heat rising. Rage itself is not any shade of red—it's not any color at all. It's a smell, a fried-up fish. Melancholy? The blues? Melancholy's more of a shimmer than any color. And it creeps: blues on the move." Verdict: Christina Meldrum skillfully examines the exquisite human psyche by bringing to light the importance—and devastation—of deception, hidden meaning, falsified untruths, and verified dismissals; this is what makes Amaryllis in Blueberry thought-provoking, strangely beautiful, and absolutely stirring. While some of the prose was a bit too lavish, and the idea of an ordinary American family meeting its ruin upon being caught up in Africa, unoriginal (Barbara Kingsolver ripoff, hello), in its essence, this book is a rare and startling glimpse at a tragedy turned extraordinary, brimming with perceptive truth and soul. Rating: 8 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): An engaging read; highly recommended. Source: Complimentary copy provided by LibraryThing Member Reviews in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!).
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terilhack More than 1 year ago
What really caught my eye as a reader was the cover. Now I can say that I tore apart The Poisonwood Bible for an English class and picked apart all the symbolism, but what AIB brought to me was an entire different distinctive read. I was not looking for insight into the African culture I was interested in the family perspective of overcoming obstacles and making it past the skeletons in the closet that had been hiding. As the character's stories changed and interweaves from past and present sense in the novel I was enthralled by all of the inner dialog going on. I had a quiet weekend to sit down as really absorb into this book and I came out loving it. The description of place was beautifully written as the book took us through Michigan and parts of West Africa. I could feel the environments in the written as well as the building suspense in the storyline. The characters and their emotions, shortcomings, and intent was thick enough to cut with a fork and the inner weaving story through all of the book was breathtaking to read and assimilate. Over all AIB was a great read. I had to read parts over a few times to catch points that I had missed, but the book presented a fresh new read and a very interesting perspective on people, and I had a great time experiencing all of these amazingly written characters.
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bookworm3390 More than 1 year ago
Amaryllis in Blueberry is an excellent novel that tells the story of one family in the mid 1970s. Seena, Dick, Mary Grace, Mary Tessa, Mary Catherine, and Amaryllis all tell different parts of how they came to be in Africa and what happened while they were there. Each family member has their own secret or problem that slowly comes out as the novel progresses. This novel was excellent in the way that it brought the image and concept of Africa into the book. It had several mentions of the language and the beliefs of the African people and it merged seamlessly with the perceptions that the family had of Africa and what they thought about it. All of the characters in the novel were three dimensional and most aspects of them that were believable. At times, it seemed like everyone had one major problem that they had to deal with, and that seemed a little unbelievable - people often have more than one issue going on with them. But overall, the story moved at a good pace and was and excellent read and I would read this novel again!
iswimforoceans More than 1 year ago
Amaryllis in Blueberry is the captivating tale of a family ripped from their hometown in Michigan and forced to plant missionary roots in rural Africa. Worlds away from their former lives, Dick and his wife, Seena, must somehow bind their family of four daughters, Mary Grace, Mary Tessa, Mary Catherine, and Amaryllis, together once again. They were lost in a world where they were held together by society, but the lack of a set society might just be what they need to find each other again. But the change in life prompts unexpected changes in Seena and propels their unique little family on a journey of discovery, loss, and ultimately truth. I received Amaryllis in Blueberry from a fellow book blogger to review, and while this isn't my normal type of book to review, I was captivated by the story of this strange family and the pseudo-black sheep, Amaryllis. Amaryllis has this unique ability to sense the truth in a sea of lies and to see a bit of the future and the past all at once, making her into a little web of mystery in a story of this family's journey to discovery. I have to say that Christina Meldrum has an absolutely stunning writing style. Fluid and melodic, she weaves the reader into a world of magic and mystery, showing you slivers of truth along the way and compelling you to keep reading. While I loved the premise of the story, and the author's writing was exceptional, I have to admit that the descriptiveness got a bit heavy at times, jarring me from the story, itself. Furthermore, while I loved reading about the family as individuals, I felt that the motives that led Dick to move his family from their Michigan home were a bit too light in the context of the story. All that aside though, the portrayal of two vastly different worlds and lifestyles in Amaryllis in Blueberry was exceptional, and was probably the highlight of the book for me. I simply would have liked a bit more tension, I suppose, to propel the book towards the climax. Amaryllis in Blueberry is definitely more adult than the books I normally read, but I'm trying to broaden my literary horizons and open this blog up to a bit more. All in all, it was a good book, and one that I'd highly recommend to those who normally enjoy adult novels. I give it a 3.5 out of 5, and fans of contemporary fiction are sure to enjoy it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book swept me into two incredibly diverse worlds -- lush rural Michigan and arid West Africa -- with a contrast that was palpable. The family at the center of the book is filled with remarkable, unique characters that each provides a complex perspective standing alone. Interspersing those characters' perspectives and relating them to their roles within the family is fascinating and insightful. Meldrum then overlays complex issues of comparative religion and culture that keep you thinking and surprised at each step -- forcing you to confront your own assumptions. This is a great follow-up on Meldrum's award-winning first book - Madapple. What a treat!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im here!
judithannhillard More than 1 year ago
When compared with the Poisonwood Bible, I could not wait to dig into Amaryllis in Blueberry. Having a sister who married a bush pilot and lived in various parts of Africa for 20 years, having and raising 9 children there and making lifetime friends and saving hearts, souls, bodies, marriages, etc. I just could not have been more disappointed in this book than if it smelled like the VIP's she so aptly describes. Perhaps Meldrum is a story-teller, but why did she feel compelled to tell this story of misshapen love and broken hearts, without the ability to express or show love for even one's own children? And why make the African tribesmen and women sound so totally savage when that is truly not the case, especially with those educated and English-speaking who become friends, and in Poisonwood, lovers and husbands? I could not wait to FINISH it, and that is the opposite of my reaction to most every book I read in any given week. A Thousand Splendid Suns was SO AMAZING, I grieved when it ended. I wanted more. I wanted to KNOW the writer. This one was a dud. I am surprised anyone even published it.
AAR More than 1 year ago
AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY by Christina Meldrum is a contemporary historical fiction set in 1970's Michigan and Africa.It is written in a series of flashbacks from the past to the present. It intertwines past history/story with present. It has adultery,forgiveness,redemption,love,family saga,murder,meditation of faith,loyalty,love,acceptance,Africa,missionaries,fate,buried secrets,sacrifice,slavery,culture difference,exploration of faith,synesthete(visions of artificial light around someone or something)and truth. This is the story of a husband's(Dick) obsession of his wife,Seena,a wife(Seena) who has committed adultery years before,is accused of her husband's murder and four daughters with four secrets.The youngest daughter,Amaryllis,is the child in question,she was born in an Blueberry patch.This is a compelling story of love and a family being forced from their home in Michigan to take up roots as a missionary in Africa,their trials,tributations and culture shock.If you enjoy a complex story with many facets this is a story for you. This book was received for the purpose of review from Gallery Books and details can be found .0at Gallery Books,a division of Simon & Schuster,Inc. and My Book Addiction and More.
jadinha More than 1 year ago
because no one cared about the characters.