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Author Sandra Forrester, acclaimed for bringing to life little-known aspects of American history, weaves an engrossing tale about a girl of mixed race in nineteenth-century New Orleans. Simone Racine wants only to be like her cousin Claire-Marie, with beautiful ball gowns and a white gentleman in her future who will be her "protector." But as Simone grows from being a self-centered girl to a courageous young woman, she decides to take a tremendous risk, she helps her aunt's slaves escape. This is historical ...
Author Sandra Forrester, acclaimed for bringing to life little-known aspects of American history, weaves an engrossing tale about a girl of mixed race in nineteenth-century New Orleans. Simone Racine wants only to be like her cousin Claire-Marie, with beautiful ball gowns and a white gentleman in her future who will be her "protector." But as Simone grows from being a self-centered girl to a courageous young woman, she decides to take a tremendous risk, she helps her aunt's slaves escape. This is historical fiction that will captivate young readers.
The diary entries of thirteen-year-old Simone Agneau, a child of mixed African and European ancestry, reflect the peculiar caste system in Louisiana before the Civil War.
My name is Simone Marguerite Racine. I am called Simone by everyone except Papa, who calls me Ti-Simone because, he says, I am his little girl. I fear that Papa's eyesight isfailing-for my legs have grown as long as those of his favorite mare-but Papa is decidedly pigheaded and unlikely to change his ways.
If I seem to be preoccupied with livestock, it is only because I have never kept a personal journal and hardly know how to begin. Madame Sardou insists that keeping a diary inEnglish will help me with my grammar— which she says is atrocious!—though I wonder why it matters, since my family and friends, and everyone else in New Orleans who matters,speak only French. When I said as much to my cousin, Claire-Marie, she replied, "But what if you should marry an Amiricain, chirie?" And we both laughed. As though a Creolewoman would ever consider such a thing!
It was Claire-Marie who gave me this beautiful book, in honor of my thirteenth birthday. So I write in the hope that she will be pleased that I am putting her gift to good use-and in thegreater hope that Madame Sardon will cease to sigh and grumble that I am butchering the English language. Though how else she will spend her time, I cannot imagine.
Madame Sardou sighs and grumbles still. Before class on Monday, I must write a five-page composition in English. Of no surprise to me, Claire-Marie's recitations wereperfect.
Claire-Marie is one year older than I. She is not only my cousin but also my dearest friend, even though she is Madame Sardou's pet. Claire-Marie is the sole child of Vivienne,Maman'syounger sister. Unlike me, Claire-Marie is beautiful. She is small and her features are delicate-very French-as are Maman's and Tante Vivienne's. Her skin is creamy whiteand her hair falls as straight and shiny as raw silk down her back. I have heard it whispered all my life that Claire-Marie could pass for white. My skin is only slightly darker than mycousin's, but I could not pass. I study Claire-Marie often without her knowing, and I see that should she choose to passer ` blanc, she could. But that would mean leaving NewOrleans, where everyone knows who and what we are, and Tante Vivienne would never agree to that, for she has grand plans for Claire-Marie.
Maman has called me to help Azura with dinner.
From the scent of peppers and onion and orange in the air, I presume we are having gumbo and beignets d'oranges. I do love Azura's gumbo, but I sorely detest stirring the souppot. The heat causes my hair to fizz, and cayenne pepper makes me sneeze. 'When I suggest to Maman that cooking is Azura's job, not mine, ma mire says I am insolent and lazy.But why have a slave at all, I ask, if I must do the onerous chores while she stands idle?
Tante Vivienne does not make Claire-Marie help with dinner. They have two slaves to cook and serve and clean, while we have only one (not counting me). Life is unfair.
When papa and my brothers arrived at midday for dinner, I was setting the pot of gumbo on the table. Papa sniffed and said, "Merveilleux, Ti-Simone! 'What an accomplishedwife you will be." But Maman declared that my husband and children will be little more than rattling bones if they wait for me to find the kitchen. I have a blister on my hand from thesoup pot, and Maman's sharp tongue to contend with, as well. Life is decidedlyunfair.
Perhaps I should take a moment to write about my family. My father is Jean-Louis Racine and he is the kindest, dearest papa in the world-though less indulgent with my brothers.Papa is an artist. He carves beautiful monuments and statues from stone. My mother is Delphine Agneau Racine, the eldest of Jules Agneau's three daughters. Grand-pire Jules is oldand his health is failing. Maman takes him baskets of fruit each day and flowers to brighten his rooms. When she gives him strawberries, Grand-pire shouts that he wantedblueberries, but Maman is a dutiful daughter and does not take offense. She is also a dutiful wife and mother, but she expects gratitude from her husband and children. More oftenthan not, I disappoint her-in this regard and others.
Sadly, I have no sisters-except for Claire-Marie, who is as dear to me as any sister-but I have two brothers. Gabriel is eighteen and learning the art of stone carving and sculpture. Papasays he is gifted. My favorite brother, Celestin, whom we call Tin-Tin, is fifteen and has just begun to work with Papa. Tin-Tin is anxious to have a chisel and mallet in his hands, butfor now, he is only allowed a broom to sweep the studio floor.
When I was small and Papa spoke of Gabi and TinTin working with him someday, I thought I, too, would be a sculptor when I grew up. But Papa told me that stone carving is notproper for a woman. The work is too hard and dirty, he says, so I settle for sketching in charcoal and pastels. But I love the feel of marble beneath my hands and long to createsomething beautiful from a block of fine stone.
When Papa and the boys returned to the studio in rue Bourbon, I asked to go with them. I wished to see the monument Papa is carving for Monsieur Belmain's little son Emile, whodied from cholera. Papa has devoted months to sculpting a white marble angel in the likeness of the boy, and soon it will be delivered to the section of St. Louis Cemetery where thegens de couleur are buried. But Maman would not permit me to go. She said there was silver to polish and linens to press. She will not allow me to set foot in Papa's studio for fear Imight soil my dress and slippers-while the boys may wallow in stone dust, for all she cares!
As I polished the silver, I thought of floating through the swamp on Lucien's raft-happy thoughts so that I would appear pleasant should Maman look in. But I did not feel pleasant.Why must we have forks and spoons at all? Would it not be more sensible to use our fingers and lift our bowls to sip as the negroes do?