Cane River

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Overview

Mingling historical fact with fiction, Lalita Tademy's epic novel is based on the lives of four generations of African American women and is the result of years of exhaustive research and an obsessive odyssey to uncover her family's past.
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Cane River

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Overview

Mingling historical fact with fiction, Lalita Tademy's epic novel is based on the lives of four generations of African American women and is the result of years of exhaustive research and an obsessive odyssey to uncover her family's past.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
When the urge hit her, Lalita Tademy was corporate vice president of Sun Microsystems: "I had the feeling there was something else I was supposed to do." While she was deciding what that something else was, Tademy spent two years researching "the slave branch" of her family, "my mother's side." Returning to her ancestors' Cane River roots, she scouted old sharecroppers' farms; ransacked old courthouse archives; plotted a paper trail from grueling bondage to better days. Then, discovering what "I was supposed to do," she sat down to write this novel about the lives of slaves who were never allowed to write it themselves. Genealogy with wings.
San Jose Mercury News
...will haunt you long after you've shared their stories if suffering, abuse, joy...rich with fascinating detail...powerful in its story-telling...a journey well worth taking...
San Francisco Chronicle
...a long-overdue response to Alex Haley's "Roots..."it is about the way the past haunts the emotions and politics of the everyday and about the quiet unmapped stories that make up history...
Edward Ball
I admire what Lalita Tademy has done, writing fiction from fact to rbing to life what would otherwise be lost...
Billie Letts
A compelling story! A powerful book!
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
A selection of Oprah's Book Club, this fictionalized family history, telling of four generations of slave women living on Cane River in Louisiana from 1834 until the early 20th century, tells a larger story of how the lives of white people and black people were enmeshed during those times. The author created this novel after immersing herself in her own family's history. She includes actual photographs of her family members who became characters in the novel, pictures of documents, gravestones, and news articles—every scrap of which adds enormously to the power of this work. Tademy sticks closely to actual facts but because she creates dialogue and has to flesh out the characters, she is careful to call the work fiction. White and black people lived together, worked together, had children together —but not as equals. The slaves had little choice. In this family, Elizabeth had come to Louisiana, sold from a plantation in Virginia, where she had two babies as a result of her white master's sexual advances. She had no choice, of course, but to leave those babies behind in Virginia. Her grief and that experience are repeated again and again as she helps her daughters and granddaughters face their own life circumstances. Her daughter Suzette barely reaches puberty when she is impregnated by a visiting Frenchman. Suzette's daughter Philomene (half white) has a fulfilling "marriage" with another slave, but he is sold away so that Philomene can become the mistress of the owner. Philomene's daughter Emily (white except for one black grandmother) is pampered by her white father. After the Civil War, she is educated, and once grown, has what essentially is a long marriage to a white Frenchlandowner. The marriage isn't legal, because miscegenation is a crime, but a home and many children are part of Emily's experience. Oddly enough, those relationships that were taken as a matter of course during slavery, in the Jim Crow South became a moral outrage to the white citizens. Eventually Emily's happiness is destroyed because of this threat—literally, her children and home are endangered if she continues to live openly with a white man. This novel will interest all those who enjoy family histories. The women are tough and loving—they face impossible situations with courage and intelligence. Their priorities are to keep their families as intact as possible, and to manipulate white people as much as they can for this purpose. The very fact that the author is part of this long history adds to its great appeal. And the actual family photographs and documented history add a great deal to the narrative. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Warner, 529p. illus. maps.,
— Claire Rosser
Library Journal
First novelist Tademy turns fact (the story of her antebellum Southern family) into fiction. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446615884
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/28/2005
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 584
  • Sales rank: 130,470
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.87 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Lalita Tademy lives in Menlo Park, California.
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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from

Cane River

Chapter 1

"I wanted to go inside. Old Bertram went in for a few minutes and took communion while I waited." Suzette was sorry her mother had never seen St. Augustine, that she and Old Bertram were the only slaves who had been allowed off the plantation.

"Just do your work, Suzette," Elisabeth said. "We have ten to feed this morning, and I still have Mam'zelle Oreline's birthday supper to make."

"Mam'zelle promised to leave some of everything on her plate for me tonight since it is almost my birthday, too."

Elisabeth said nothing, began to hum again.

Suzette wished her mother would send her on an errand, away for a time from all of the eyes that sought her out night and day. She would slip off her shoes and walk, with the rich Louisiana soil under her feet and between her toes, and carry back a pail of fresh cow's milk without spilling any, or bring in more wood for the fire, or gather green beans from the big garden to string and snap later. She was eight years old today, would be nine tomorrow, and she was meant for the house, not the field. Everyone, white, colored, and Negro, told her how much pride there was in that.

On good days Elisabeth would tell Suzette interesting things, mostly about cooking or preserving or flavoring, and sometimes she would compare Rosedew with the plantation she had come from in Virginia.

"This big house is puny next to some," Elisabeth would declare. In Virginia, her mother said, the big house had an upstairs, a downstairs, and thick white columns in the front. There were separate servants for every task, and each one of them had assistants. The big house on Rosedew was slung low, a one-story house of wood and brick frame, stuccoed in white, and topped with a long, sloping roof. There were six rooms that Suzette helped clean and a special bedroom for visitors, the stranger's room, with its own separate entrance from the outside for passersby on the river who might need a place to stay overnight. More often, as when the entire Fredieu family stayed over, it was used for the Derbannes' relatives who came calling by the day or week or month.

Beneath her madras tignon, Elisabeth's broad, dark face was streaked with a mixture of sweat from the heat of the cookhouse fires and a film of fine white flour from her morning baking. The sleeves on her long calico summer dress were pushed up above her elbows, and Suzette could see the old leathery burn marks on the brown skin of her mother's arms from her many years as cook, from boiling kettles and the big smoky fireplace and sizzling skillets. Suzette looked down at her own skinny arms, wishing they were pale and white like Oreline's instead of the color of cocoa.

"Mam'zelle and I went down to the quarter yesterday."

For Suzette there were real smells in the quarter no one tried to mask, loud sounds no one tried to quiet, and large motions no one tried to subdue. Weekdays only the smallest children were there, along with those too old for the field, the sick, new mothers, and the old woman who took care of all the little ones. Everyone else was gone, working sunup to sundown. After dark everyone was usually too tired from the day in the field to do much more than prepare their evening meal of ground cornmeal and their ration of bacon. A handful of meal, a little water, a pinch of lard, into the ashes to cook, and fall into bed exhausted after eating. But Saturday, after half-day labor, the quarter came alive with each household working their own patch garden, washing clothes, trading gossip, and bringing back fish or game along with stories of how they had caught it. Children mixed at will, white and black, broadcloth and homespun, nearly masters and nearly slaves not yet fully grown into their roles. Suzette's family lived in the quarter, including two sisters and a younger brother. There were moments when she wondered what it would have been like to live there instead of the big house.

"Papa made up two songs. One for Mam'zelle's birthday and a different one for mine."

Her father, Gerasíme, never gave Suzette hard looks when she used her house voice, unlike some others in the quarter. He was coppery brown, small framed, and always glad to see her, no matter how tired he might be. With his booming laugh, he called her his "big-eyed gal." Geras?me's wild mane of springy black hair couldn't decide whether to stay down or curl up, so it did both, and his face was so smooth that he didn't have to shave like the other men. When Suzette had asked him about it, he'd said it was because he was half Indian. Her father was a favorite in both the quarter and the big house because he played the fiddle, and Louis Derbanne often got requests to rent him out for the frequent parties held up and down Cane River.

Suzette grew quiet when Madame Françoise Derbanne swept into the cookhouse, the silk of her pale green visiting dress rustling. Françoise's heavily corseted build was typical of well-fed Creole ladies, and her fading brown hair had been darkened with coffee-grounds water and upswept in calculated curls. Both her pointed nose and chin were inclined slightly, and her feet were nestled in black hightop shoes with leather-covered buttons. Usually she had Elisabeth come to her in the dark back room of the big house to decide on the menus for the week. But from time to time she appeared in the cookhouse unannounced, being careful not to let anything touch her or her fine clothes. It was an old ceremony between the mistress and her cook, and they had been acting it out since Elisabeth had come to the plantation fifteen years before.

"Elisabeth," Madame said, crinkling her nose as if she had caught wind of something slightly foul, "I've just talked to Oreline, and I want today's supper to be special. I have promised her a birthday treat of her favorites. There will be ten of us in all."

"Yes'm, Madame Françoise," said Elisabeth, eyes still on her worktable, hands never stopping their rhythm.

Suzette tried not to smile as she watched the two women, one tall, with skin the color of day-old grits, the other short and dark. She had already told her mother each of the choices she and Oreline had decided upon.

"We will have chicken and tasso jambalaya, sweet-potato pone, green beans, cala with the gooseberry preserves we put up last year, and peach cobbler," Françoise instructed.

"Yes'm."

Suzette was surprised Madame could not smell the peaches hidden in the pantry. Their aroma still lingered in the air of the cookhouse, competing with the sharp yeast smell of the starter sponge for cala they had concocted the night before, holding the promise of the rice fritters to come. She had peeled the potatoes for her mother and had been careful to watch how Elisabeth combined the boiled potatoes, cornmeal, flour, and cooking soda and left it in the night air to ferment before mixing in the boiled rice to make the sponge. Just before mealtime would come the flour, eggs, butter, and milk, the stiff batter to beat, the dropping of the calas by the spoonful onto the blistering skillet.

"I give you my permission to go to the smokehouse after breakfast and get the ham and one jar of preserves," Madame said with a slight nod of her head.

"Yes'm."

Madame Françoise walked a few steps toward the doorway and then turned back. Her tone had a scolding edge.

"You used far too much sugar in your last peach cobbler, Elisabeth, and Monsieur Derbanne got an upset stomach. Use less sugar this time."

"Yes'm."

The last time Suzette had served her mother's peach cobbler, she had spent half of that night cleaning up after Louis Derbanne. Elisabeth herself had told Suzette that M'sieu was ill because he had drunk too much bourbon. Her mother had done nothing wrong.

Suzette stood to her full height, the butter paddle still in her hands.

"Madame," she said eagerly to Françoise Derbanne, "it was the bourbon that made him sick, not the sugar."

Suzette's words fell into the damp, dead air and hung there. Each of the three stood rooted in the cookhouse, the white woman's lips reducing to an astonished slim line, the black woman's face turning in on itself, her eyes closing briefly, and the suddenly uncertain little cocoa-colored girl letting her arms fall limply to her side. A fly buzzed sluggishly toward the open doorway.

Françoise Derbanne's eyes flickered hot. She turned, took three quick steps toward Suzette, and slapped her hard with her green-gloved hand across the right side of her face, fingers spread wide.

She squinted at Elisabeth. "I won't be contradicted," she said, her voice wavering slightly. "You need to teach the girl her place." She wheeled around and walked deliberately out of the cookhouse.

Françoise Derbanne had never slapped Suzette in the face before, and it took a moment for her to start to cry. After the first startled tears, she looked toward her mother, who continued working the ball of dough.

"I didn't mean to be bad, Mère."

Elisabeth sprinkled more flour on the worktable and roughly pulled down the rolling pin. "Your little-girl days are done." At first her tone provided no opening, but then it softened. "Come over here, Suzette." Suzette obeyed slowly, sniffling.

A single plump tear stood perched on the high ridge of Suzette's cheek, refusing to drop to the red outline below where Madame had slapped her. Elisabeth reached over and with her broad thumb pushed the wetness away, leaving a thin trace of white flour in its place.

"Mère?"

Elisabeth had returned to her dough, humming.

Suzette felt the stinging on her face, the heat of the fires, the stickiness of her shift against her skin. She stared at the old burn spot shaped like a quarter moon on the inside of her mother's exposed arm, fascinated by how perfectly the tips curved in toward each other. She was tempted to reach out and touch it.

"How many times have I told you to keep that mouth from running?" Elisabeth said. "There's lots worse than slapping." She didn't often look angry, but now she pounded at the dough as if she were scrubbing clothes on the washboard.

"It wasn't fair," Suzette said stubbornly.

"There is no fair. Just do your work, Suzette."

Suzette went back to the churn. Der-banne. Der-banne. The paddle resisted more with each movement until she had butter. She spooned it out, rocking herself in place where she stood, her face settling into a dull ache, while Elisabeth's big wooden rolling pin gave out stubborn squeaks with each pass over the dough.

"Mère, I finished the butter."

"Is the table set?"

"Oui."

"Then come watch," Elisabeth said. "Your time's coming soon enough to make the biscuits."

This seemed like safer ground to Suzette, and she held on to it. "Can I help you today if Mam'zelle Oreline doesn't need me?"

Elizabeth showed the beginnings of a rare smile, partially exposing the gap between her two front teeth, a gap that matched Suzette's own.

"I'm going to make you a little secret peach cobbler for your birthday tomorrow. No telling anybody else, even Mam'zelle." Elisabeth reached out and touched Suzette's arm, insistent, the almost smile fading.

"Understand?" she said. "Not even Mam'zelle."

Suzette nodded. "Should I run and get more peaches?" she asked.

"First use those young legs to go get me some more sugar. One extra cup and we'll make sure this peach cobbler bubbles up nice and sweet for Mam'zelle Oreline."

The ache had faded from her cheek by the time Suzette served the breakfast of tamales, tortillas, sausages, blood pudding, and biscuits to the Derbannes and their visiting houseguests. They were ten around the long dining room table, and the adults seemed in high spirits. She dished the sausages out of the platter for everyone around the table, coming last to Oreline's cousin Narcisse Fredieu, a pudgy boy with light brown hair thick clumped in waves hugging his head.

Suzette stayed close to the table, hoping to hear the Derbannes and the Fredieus talk about St. Augustine. For a long while the breakfast conversation meandered lazily from the price of cotton and old people's ailments to the poison grass creeping up from the marsh, what the weather was likely to be, and the heavy responsibilities of the planter class. She'd heard all of that before.

"I tell you, brother, the seating arrangement is improper at St. Augustine. White sitting behind colored," Narcisse's mother complained. "We were meant for better."

Suzette waited to see what would happen next. Oreline had told her that the Fredieus were not exactly de la fine fleur des pois, not the most select blooms of the sweet-pea blossom, and the marriage of Narcisse's mother to a Fredieu had been below her place. On many of their visits Suzette had overheard Narcisse's mother, a Derbanne, talk about her family's quality, with history and distinction in the bloodline. She passed on her family stories, bold and proud tales of the original French settlers in Louisiana. She was silent on the subject of the Fredieus' background.

"They reserve the eight rows for their betters, sister," Louis responded. "Only Augustine's family is in front. He did pay for the church, after all."

Françoise cleared her throat to speak. "We should go to the Natchitoches church," she said, and her voice rose slightly. "It dismays me to have to consort so closely with the gens de couleur libre..."

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Interviews & Essays

Author Essay
Writing fiction is a deeply personal undertaking -- creating complex characters, getting them in and out of fixes, spinning tales inevitably based on one's own interpretations of life. In order to create a compelling story the writer must transport him- or herself into the work. But writing about family members, even when most of them have been dead and buried for nearly a century, as I did in my first novel, Cane River, a fictionalized saga about four generations of colored Creole slave women, carried additional challenges. All writers face the risk of revealing more about themselves and their worldviews than they might intend. In cases like my own they must also worry about disclosing more than their family might be comfortable with and interpreting this personal history differently from other relatives. The writer might be accused of employing a thinly disguised description of one or all family members, and they may not be happy about it. It makes for interesting family gatherings.

I came to fiction writing late, after a long corporate management career. Cane River was the first word-related project I had undertaken in years that didn't have a business plan attached. (To be fair, in retrospect, some of those business plans did have fictional elements associated with them.) I had to adjust quickly to the harsh reality that if a writer doesn't do it (whatever it is), it doesn't get done. There are no backup teams ready in the wings, no motivational speeches to deliver, no need for "all-hands" meetings where you gather everyone who works for you to outline expectations. All I really needed was a spiral notebook (narrow ruled), a plentiful supply of pens (Uniball blue ink, Sanford fine point), and a minimum of three dedicated hours a day. Every day.

On the one hand, as a first-time novelist it was helpful to tell a story shaped by real places, real people, and real events. On the other, trying to recount the circumstances surrounding a fiery 1907 newspaper editorial about my ancestors, entitled "The Sin of Miscegenation," left me so emotionally spent that for weeks I was afraid I wouldn't be able to communicate anything at all.

I wrote the entire manuscript for Cane River in longhand first. I found it impossible to tackle the virgin page on a computer, as if my brain couldn't override the numbing power of that blinking cursor without handwritten crib notes. I had to spend extra hours in the afternoon or evening after the day's creative purge typing work into the desktop for subsequent editing. The old, efficient me (corporate) was appalled by the wasted time and effort, but the newly emerging right-brained me (writer) reluctantly accepted the limitations and went with the flow.

I will admit to having been surprised by the things that I found the craft of writing was not. It wasn't channeling, divine inspiration, predictable, or fun. It was wonderfully exciting when a character took the narrative in directions I hadn't anticipated, but that character always refused to hand me the descriptive words I secretly hoped for.

When I finished writing Cane River, I was enormously satisfied that it captured the story of four such remarkable women from my past. Writing is personal, sometimes wrenching, often drudgery, but I have to admit, when I held the first finished copy of the book in my hand, the agony vanished, replaced by an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. (Lalita Tademy)

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Reading Group Guide

1. Philomene says that to be a slave was "to have nothing but still have something left to lose." Discuss the profound, but different, losses suffered by each generation of women.

2. The relationships between Suzette, Philomene and Emily and the white fathers of their children range from flat-out rape, to calculated financial arrangements cemented by childbearing, to real, if forbidden and dangerous love. What did you find most surprising about these often complex relationships?

3. Do you think Doralise was in a position to help Suzette and Philomene more than she did?

4. Cane River dramatizes the roots of turmoil within America's black community on issues of skin color. Emily, for example, is described by the author as being "color-struck." In what ways does color-consciousness continue to afflict black and mixed-race societies today? How, in Cane River, was the color-struck attitude a help or hindrance in successive generations' rising fortunes?

5. During the course of researching Cane River, as she kept unearthing tender relationships in unexpected situations, Tademy found herself frequently being forced to rethink some long-held beliefs about slavery. What, if anything, surprised you most about the relationships described in the book? In which ways did you find Tademy's depictions believable? Upsetting? Eye-opening?

6. Cane River was a community made up of French planters, slaves and gens de couleur libre, or free people of color who "had accumulated a great deal of land and wealth and were just as likely to be slave owners as their white neighbors." How do you think the free people of color justified playing a willful role in their kinsmen's oppression?

7. The free people of color considered themselves neither black nor white. Can you think of any parallels in today's society?

8. Each of the four women in the book approached life differently and handled the relationships to the men and children in their lives very differently. Discuss the differences.

9. Do you think that each of the women was a good mother? Was there more that any one of them could have done for their children than they did?

10. How-or did-each of the women fight against the oppression of their lives? Do you think there was more that Elisabeth or Suzette in particular could have done?

11. Philomene seems to be the strongest of the women. If you agree with this statement, what do you think accounts for her unusual strength? If you disagree, why-and who do you think was actually the strongest? The weakest?

12. Philomene coldly made a choice to stay with Narcisse Fredieu after he returned to Cane River following the Civil War. At this point, she was now free. Why, then, would she make this decision?

13. Suzette changed her last name three times. Why was this so significant to her?

14. Did Joseph Billes do everything he could to protect Emily and their children? Did Emily do everything possible to protect her children?

15. Elisabeth called all of her descendants to her bedside when she knew she was dying? What were the long-term repercussions of this act for her family?

16. Sunday dinners were a major event in Cane River. What made them so important? Family dinners, in which generations come together on a regular basis, seem to be a dying tradition in this country. What effect do you think this has on families today?

17. Cane River was a community with both rigid hierarchies and notable exceptions to these hierarchies. Do you think that Cane River's historical divisions of class, race and gender have contemporary parallels?

18. What are the similarities and differences between Cane River of the l800s and the United States today?

19. In many ways, Cane River, a rural farming community established by French Catholics, was unlike other southern communities of the time. What did you find most surprising about the community and its leading citizens?

20. Each of the four major women characters in Cane River was born a slave, but even so, each made distinct choices regarding how she was going to live her life. What were their choices? What were the other options they might have chosen?

21. When Madame slaps Suzette in the cookhouse, Elisabeth doesn't interfere, nor does she have a heart-to-heart conversation afterward with her daughter about what happened? Why not? Was this realistic?

22. What do you think would have happened to each of the main characters if they has not been so deeply rooted in family?

23. Which living situation do you think was easier: big house or quarter?

24. Emily, in the very last scene in the book, takes a seat in the front row of the bus to return home from her trip to town. Is this something you believe she would do? Why or why not?

25. Elisabeth, Suzette and Philomene don't talk about slavery with Emily, who was too young to remember slave life. In fact, they don't talk much about those times with one another. How does this avoidance shape them and affect the younger generation?

26. When Joseph moves Emily out of the house where they raised their children in order to marry a white woman, Emily asks to take only those things she considers to be her possessions. Was this foolish pride that possibly deprived her children of a larger inheritance?

27. Joseph stays close to Emily in his later years. Why do you think Emily continued to allow Joseph into her life after he kicked her out of their home and married another woman?

28. Emily's daughters Mary and Josephine never marry, and her son T.O. married a woman radically different than his mother. What do you think this says about the long-reaching effects of Emily's choices and behavior as a mother?

29. Elisabeth says that everyone along Cane River was 'waiting for the spider to come home." What did she mean?

30. The author of Cane River made the decision to turn her family's story into a work of fiction rather than nonfiction? What do you think motivated her to do so, and do you think it was the right decision

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2001

    The Not-to-be-Missed Novel of the Year!

    We know all the stories-how white men forced themselves on their black female slaves; the octoroon and mulatto children who resulted from those unions; the hope of freedom; the field work; the housework; the cruel overseers. There's nothing new in that arena in Lalita Tademy's debut novel, Cane River. But what makes this work stand out from any of the others in this historical area, which takes place along the Cane River in Louisiana, is the women who pepper this compelling family saga. First we meet Elizabeth and her daughter, Suzette. In her late thirties, Elizabeth seems much, much older, worn down by the burden of being a slave and her position as cook. Her motto is 'We do what we have to to survive.' Suzette is a high-spirited girl who has enjoyed being the shadow of her owner's daughter, Oreline Derbanne. Suzette cannot understand why she and her family are slaves, when there are free colored people living nearby. An white French immigrant and neighbor, Eugene Daurat, rapes Suzette and begins an affair with her that is rather odd, but intriguing. Suzette bears him two children. As time goes by, the plantation, Rosedew, the master, Louis Derbanne, dies. Suzette and her daughter, her mother, and her deaf-mite sister go in one direction; her son in another. Suzette's daughter, Philomene, grows up with a gift---the ability to see into the future----'glimpsings.' Philomene is about to marry Clement, the love of her life, but she is forced into intimacy with a white man, Narcisse Fredieu. Before Clement is sold away, she bears him twin daughters, but bears Fredieu eight. Philomene makes sure that Fredieu cares for his children by making certain the property on which he built them a home is in her name---security she calls it. The white stain Daurat started with Suzette is becoming more and more evident in each child that appears. By the time we reach Emily's (Philomene's daughter) stage of life, there are four generations of colored women living under the same roof. The children come from all over the Cane River area to have the dinner with Elizabeth and any other family member who can make it. Emily's tale goes up to her death in 1936 and is the frame of the novel. Tademy, who quit her vice-presidency position at a Fortune 500 company to research her family roots, has done an excellent job in portraying each individual woman. The names of the men, because they are French and resemble each other, are confusing and difficult to keep distinguished. However, Cane River is a wonderfully-written novel that moves at a dramatic pace and digs deeper into the soul's of these women and their era with remarkable richness and complexity.

    15 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2001

    A great and timely story. I couldn't put this book down

    It's important to know where you come from so your know where you are going. Ms. Tademy knew where to go to write this great book. It will go on my bookshelf next to 'Root' and the rest of my family's history books and albums. Sometimes we wonder why 'certain' things keep happening in the same family generation after generation after generation. After reading Cane River you will have the answer. This is a book that should be handed down from mother to daughter to grand-daughter to great-grand-daughter etc. to read and get an understanding of our responsibility as mothers. Cane River's story didn't just happen in Louisanna or to Black/Colored Creoles it happens through out the United States to many African American families today.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Meaningful read! Enjoyed!

    Three African-American women, Suzette, Philomene, and Emily, who put family first and did what they had to do, given their circumstances, to survive and also succeed. Meaningful read!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 10, 2010

    Fabulous

    This book is one you will want to keep in your library, and pass down. A true story about Cajun, Negroe, and white families and slaves living together in the lower delta along the Cane river beginning in the mid 1800's, through the 1930's. It brought to me a life and time,& sacrifices made by the women who are ancestors of the author, that just tore at my heart. I could not put this book down, and am looking forward to the continuing story of "Red River". Highly recommend.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Best Book I read in 2009

    I loved every minute of reading this book. Lalita Tademy spent years researching her family history, and then used what she found to write a semi-fiction, semi-fact based novel about her female ancestors beginning in the 1800's while they were still living in slavery. This is one of those rare books that tells a complete story. Each of these amazing, strong women, drew me in to the novel giving an excellent portrait of what a woman's life in slavery would have been like as well as the Civil War, reconstruction, and the years of discrimination that followed. I was so sad to say goodbye to these characters at novel's end that I found myself re-reading large sections of the book, unready to move on. I would recommend this story to anyone who has an interest in historical fiction, slavery, and the lives of real women. This is going on my all time favorites list.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Love It!

    I read this book in less than 2 days. I couldn't put it down. Tademy tells a beautiful story of four generations of women and their battles with slavery, Jim Crow, love, and raising kids. It made me want to learn about my ancestors and their struggles and achievements. I felt like I was there, there was never a disconnect. Made more clear how things were back the and shows how many slaves fought, bled, and died for the next generation to have it even a little better.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 17, 2011

    Historical Learning and emotional experiences, all wrapped up in one book

    I had to put it down every so often.... some of the experiences were heartwrenching. To forget about all the abominations of slavery, the horrors... and this book actually plays it down quite a bit, since the appalling details are not necessary to the storyline(s). But still, I love the way she weaved in fiction with historical events and facts. I was captivated, and felt like the knew the characters personally. Check it out... you won't regret reading this one, especially if you liked The Help, Perfect Peace, and even The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Compelling Read!

    This is an excellent read. The story is captivating and emotional. There are moments when you wanna cry. The women in this story are likable. You get a good glimpse into the various aspects of slavery and the role color impacted the system. The author did serious research and it is reflected in her writing. A must read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2013

    Great Reading

    I have a hard time putting this book down. I am three quarters through and hate to know this book will come to an end.
    Reading this book makes you realize how very fortunate you are to live in the present era. Such hard times that people had in the 1700-1800s are hard to imagine. I chose this book for our Bookclub to read and we have not had a discussion yet. I am looking forward to our upcoming meeting. I would love to read more from this author

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2012

    Finally finished

    While it took me months to finish this book reading it in between others it was a great story.....

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2012

    Educational

    I learned so much about Creoles and blacks that lived during the Civil War and pre-Civil War era in Louisiana. The story was a roller coaster of emotion. You're up, then flip the page and you're back down. The only thing that was difficult to follow were all of the names of everyone. I did a lot of flipping back and forth trying to remember who was who. Totally enjoyed this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2012

    The author developed a theory I had never thought about - Bleaching the line" ,twas great.

    I really enjoyed this book. I recommended iy to my Brdge Buddies. The story is set on " bleaching the line" a theory that is new to me. The characters seemed authentic and I would give the novel 4stars.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 21, 2012

    Amazing!

    This is one of the most engaging books I've every read! I could hardly put it down!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2012

    Kp-TX

    I absolutely enjoyed this book. Thanks to Ms. Tademe for sharing your family with us. This book is a must read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2012

    Highly Recommend - 3 generations of strong women of slavery

    I am not one to read books that break my heart - especially if the book is similar to real history. However, this was my book club's choice and I am very happy I read Cane River. At first, it is difficult to remember all of the names. But, after a while, I got the hang of them ALL! The inner strength and intelligence the three generations of women had in the face of their adversities was impressive.

    My book club gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. The only reason for not having a full 5 stars was the same issue I had at the beginning of the book. We had a two hour discussion on the book which led into historical issues and current issues in the south. Amazing!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2012

    EXCELLENT

    I could not put this book down. What a beautiful story. I felt like I was living in this time period. I laughed and I cried. It stayed with me for a very long time, I highly recommended it to all who love to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2011

    Great Book!!!!

    Just finished reading this book. It was painful, thought provoking, and exciting all at the same time. I stayed up late reading and tried to imagine how these strong women found the courage to go on after all they had to endure. This book opened my eyes to a lot of questions i had about Louisiana. I was facinated to learn that they all spoke French! This book was on my "to read" list for many years, and I'm so glad I finally got to enjoy it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    A compelling read for fans of US historical fiction!

    I read this one immediately after a trip to New Orleans that included a visit to a Cajun plantation. What a great coincidence! This book, the fictionalized biographies of three generations of strong, biracial women, the author's ancestors, challenged my preconceived notions about the antebellum south, its social hierarchy, and indeed, the nature of both slavery and slave holders.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 25, 2011

    Great Book!

    I found it hard to put down as I was eager to follow through with each character until I reached the end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 15, 2011

    If you like the Help and Perfect Peace, you'll like this one, too!

    Very engaging, just enough fiction to keep it interesting and endearing to the characters; just enough facts to make it believeable!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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