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Lady Moses: A Novel

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This powerful debut novel is the story of Jacinta Moses, the child of a passionate and courageous love. Jacinta's father is a black African writer, Simon Moses; her mother, Louise, is a white British actress. Her father dies when she is young, sending her mother into a state of madness and depression. Impoverished and alone, Jacinta longs for a better life. As she grows older, however, prejudice—her own as well as others'—leads her to make adventurous but damaging choices. Jacinta flees from London to the ...

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Overview

This powerful debut novel is the story of Jacinta Moses, the child of a passionate and courageous love. Jacinta's father is a black African writer, Simon Moses; her mother, Louise, is a white British actress. Her father dies when she is young, sending her mother into a state of madness and depression. Impoverished and alone, Jacinta longs for a better life. As she grows older, however, prejudice—her own as well as others'—leads her to make adventurous but damaging choices. Jacinta flees from London to the American South and marries a white man. When her daughter, Lady, is born with a disability, ruining her hopes for a picture-perfect life, Jacinta travels to Africa to search for answers in her father's homeland. Her experiences there will change her forever. In Africa she is forced to draw on her family's great strengths and weave something brilliant out of their history of pain.

Lady Moses is about being both black and white. It is about passionate characters in extraordinary situations; about how one woman employs her creativity, intelligence, and strength to forge an identity. With its unflinching insight and dazzling prose, Lady Moses marks the entry of a sparkling new voice in African American fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
Lucinda Roy...has the ability to paint a scene or evoke an emotion with the minimum of words...Poignant [and] vividly rendered.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"I could lie down in the hammock of his words," muses Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses about her father's stories of Africa, and the same can be said of Roy's dazzling debut, an enchanting story about a woman whose life is fraught with disaster and blessed by love. Born to a haughty white British actress and an African writer, Jacinta enjoys an idyllic 1950s childhood in South London - she barely notices her family's poverty - until her father suddenly dies, and her life becomes frightening and dangerous. By the time she reaches adolescence, Jacinta has been sexually abused by a neighbor, has witnessed her friend's death in a terrible accident and has been sent to a foster home while her mother recovers from a breakdown. But witty, defiant Jacinta survives and, in the process, wins our sympathy. At 24, she is whisked to Virginia by theatrical American novelist Emmanuel Fox III, who proposes on bended knee an hour after they meet. Troubled from the start, their relationship is plagued by the birth of a handicapped daughter and by Manny's jealousy when Jacinta succeeds as a poet, but a pilgrimage to West Africa enables Jacinta to reclaim her father's spirit and to recognize her own fortitude. Roy handles her complex plot with impressive authority as she tackles themes of racial identity, mental illness and female self-reliance. Her characters are rendered with depth; headstrong, selfish, wise and tender, they make mistakes, have regrets and learn from them. And Roy's deft prose gracefully expresses their humor, their pain and their moments of joy and transcendence.
Library Journal
Roy (English, Virginia Tech.) has created a powerful character in Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses. Called to share her mother's last days, Jacinta responds to her loss by narrating her story. The daughter of a biracial couple, she endures genteel and not-so-genteel poverty, the early death of her African father, her white mother's mental instability, and the disasters engendered by her own pride and drive for beauty. Her childhood is shaped by the physical poverty of South London and a loving, if wonderfully idiosyncratic, extended family. Fleeing London for the promise of America, Jacinta finds both freedom in writing and imprisonment in an unhappy marriage. Impulsively traveling again, this time to Africa, she encounters more questions before finding her own center. Unflinchingly honest, Jacinta is by turns fascinating and infuriating but always fully human. -- Jan Blodgett, Davidson College, North Carolina
Library Journal
Roy (English, Virginia Tech.) has created a powerful character in Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses. Called to share her mother's last days, Jacinta responds to her loss by narrating her story. The daughter of a biracial couple, she endures genteel and not-so-genteel poverty, the early death of her African father, her white mother's mental instability, and the disasters engendered by her own pride and drive for beauty. Her childhood is shaped by the physical poverty of South London and a loving, if wonderfully idiosyncratic, extended family. Fleeing London for the promise of America, Jacinta finds both freedom in writing and imprisonment in an unhappy marriage. Impulsively traveling again, this time to Africa, she encounters more questions before finding her own center. Unflinchingly honest, Jacinta is by turns fascinating and infuriating but always fully human. -- Jan Blodgett, Davidson College, North Carolina
NY Times Book Review
Filled with exuberance...Lucinda Roy is an excellent writer.
Washington Post Book World
Lucinda Roy...has the ability to paint a scene or evoke an emotion with the minimum of words...Poignant [and] vividly rendered.
San Diego Union Tribute
A terrific novel. Lady Moses is one of the best books you will read this year.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060930844
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/1999
  • Edition description: 1 HARPER
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Lucinda Roy is the author of Lady Moses. She is Alumni Distinguished Professor of English at VirginiaTech. In 1995 she won the Eighth Mountain Poetry Prize for her collection of poems, The Humming Birds. She lives in Blacksburg,Virginia.

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Read an Excerpt


Louise Buttercup Moses is dead. She was the beginning of my story and she shaped its middle. She has left me to write the end of it on my own. Her thin English hair, coiled by the chemotherapy, hugs her skull like the fuzz of newborns; her eyelids don't flutter anymore; her chapped lips are slightly parted, as if she's come in from winter to warn me about the chill of the outside world. But dead parents don't speak in the literal sense. So I force myself to dream the words from her mouth and give them the appropriate intonation: I love you, Jacinta, she says. The world is only cold if you forget how to light a fire. You will be lucky.
It isn't the way I thought it would be. In my rocking chair by the hospital bed we set up for her in the living room, I sit and stare at each contour of her face. I want to carry it with me on the rest of my journey because, in death at least, it is full of tenderness. I look at her expression and see it recede from me into memory even as I stare at it. I hope that, when the pain lessens, she will have left something in her wake for me to steer by. On this day in April, I hold Lady, who is crying with the strength of all her nine years and telling me it isn't fair. I, a daughter no longer, hug my daughter and try to tell her in words she'll understand that justice is as transient as innocence; and that Mama Lou loved her; and that love, in the end, always has to be enough.
Later, when I am alone again, I sit with my mother's corpse in the dark. I reach out to touch her, but jerk my hand back. She is cold. Her skin reminds me of plastic. I shiver and rock back and forth to nowhere, and pull the blanket Alfred gave me tight around myneck.
Louise Buttercup Moses is dead. I, Jacinta Louise, am still breathing. Once again that small detail means that I am the one left behind. It was Easter when I sat in the dark with the dead before. I try not to remember. This is another place. This is another Easter. Circles are not always nooses. Coming back to the past can be a way out of the present. We must believe that; we have no choice.
The grayness of London seeps in through the drawn curtains in the sitting room where Louise went mad, casting a light that will forever remind me of weeping. In this room in London, on this day, after thirty-six years of playing Mother and Daughter, she has finally escaped from me. I call out her name: Louise! Louise! But no one resurrects the dead unless it's in a story.
First we are together on the pages of a narrative, and then, a few pages later, when I was comfortable in the role of my mother's mother, she dies. I feel cheated. In spite of what I said to Lady, I am angry, angry, angry. I want her back. It was too soon. The system was rigged with a virus. Someone should have told me.
When she told me she was dying, the ocean crackled between us and, in an aside, casually, as though I should have expected it, she mentioned that, if the chemotherapy didn't work, she'd have about six months. "What a nuisance," she said. We made jokes, the way we had learned to do when life sucked so much you wanted to kill something. She told me she could get the wig on the National Health. "I don't want the Maggie Thatcher look," she said. "Her hair looks sort of concrete, doesn't it? I like the queen's hairdo; I could live with that." She told me I was very brave. I tried hard to keep breathing. She told me she was proud of me. "America's so much better than here," she said. "Everything's rotting in Britain." Then she thanked me again for not making a fuss and said she was going to Salisbury Cathedral the next morning on the coach. She wanted to visit Salisbury because it made her happy to know how spires felt. When I put the phone down, I was a "little coloured girl" again instead of a woman of color, and everything turned to dust. It hurt so much I cried out like an animal and terrified Lady.
Nothing is more potent than exhaustion, not even fear. I am tired. I long to be back in Virginia where spring is green and where the ghosts from two continents cannot find me. I look at my mother's sweet face as she sleeps. In the dark recesses of the room, regret scratches around in the corners. I lean back in the chair. Sixty-six. Not a lucky number. Our ages play with each other. Three is half of six. At thirty-six, I am half the woman she was. What she did I probably could not have done. She left and then came back, denying the sweet pull of insanity for nearly thirty years.
Alfred comes in. Come and have some tea, Cinta, he says. Come and have a nice cup of tea.
But tea won't help this time. Alfred knows this. He comes into the room and pulls up a chair, which scrapes across the carpet in a sound reminiscent of the word "hush."
Hush. The Mother-Baby is sleeping—coaxed into death by the final lullaby. This room on Lavender Sweep in South London is her sepulchre. A few cars rush around the bow of the street; we barely hear them. Lavender Sweep has been Louise's home for forty years. There is nothing glamorous or grand about it. It is an ordinary street in an ordinary part of South London that had, for a few decades (I force myself to believe), some extraordinary residents.
Alfred takes my hand and that is the only cue I need in order to let go. Pain spills out of me like blood. When I speak, my voice has to climb stairs.
She was better than this. If only . . . if only . . .
Alfred kisses the hand I burned as a child because it had sinned, and places it over the golden key that hangs from a chain around my neck.
We'll write it down, he says, barely audible. Amazing things happened in this house. You know it will heal us if we write it all down.
He thinks I don't hear him. But way down where I am on the bottom rung of the ladder, my strong left hand reaches for a pen.
If life is only a brief journey toward great loss in a small room, what will I tell my child when she asks me again, just as she did when she was five years old, "What is the meaning of life, Mama?"
There has to be more than this paltry death. My answer to my daughter must imply that there is glory to be found if you look for it hard enough. If mortality is to be borne, it needs a frame of reference. Perhaps courage comes in the construction of one.
You know it will heal us if we write it all down.
I start with the capital letter "I." It begins in the sky with Louise and ends on the earth with me and Alfred years ago when Simon was with us—before Lady, before Manny, before Esther, before John. Before something terrible transformed Easter.
Back to a time when Louise and Simon were alive, when there was joy and grandeur in the world, and I was a small coloured girl riding my father's elephant among the traffic on Lavender Sweep.
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Interviews & Essays

On April 3, 1998, barnesandnoble.com was pleased to welcome Lucinda Roy to our Authors@aol series to discuss her first novel, LADY MOSES. Lucinda Roy is a professor of English at Virginia Tech. She is author of two collections of poems, WAILING THE DEAD TO SLEEP and THE HUMMING BIRDS, the latter of which was awarded the Eighth Mountain Poetry Prize. Lucinda Roy's LADY MOSES is available at keyword BarnesandNoble.


JainBN: Ms. Roy, we're so pleased you could join us tonight to talk about LADY MOSES. Do you have any opening comments?

Lucinda Roy: I'd like to say how delighted I am to be here tonight. And I'm really looking forward to hearing what people have to say!



JainBN: Well then, let's dig in! We have many audience questions in the queue...



Question: Do you think that people of mixed racial heritage face issues in their lives that are unfamiliar to people of a single ethnic identity?

Lucinda Roy: Yes. I do. I think that all of us who are mixed-race faced some unique issues. Culture, especially American culture, tends to force us to think within a single perspective, but those of us who are biracial have a genetic disposition to thinking "in stereo." This can be challenging but also enriching. And I wouldn't change it for the world.



Question: Do you think that Jacinta was shallow for being so distraught that her child's disability would wreck her dreams for a perfect family?

Lucinda Roy: I don't really think that Jacinta was shallow when she reacted in a negative way to the birth of her child. I think she was very human and very afraid. Part of her fear stemmed from the fact that she herself had endured so much prejudice. She was hoping that her child would not have to endure the same kind of thing. But prejudice against difference is extreme in our culture, particularly if people have some kind of physical difference. It seems to me that courage involves overcoming those fears somehow. And that is what Jacinta does.



Question: How has the experience of writing a novel compared with your poetry writing? Do you find yourself more comfortable with one than the other?

Lucinda Roy: When I began writing fiction, I was a poet. When I finished LADY MOSES, I'd like to think I was a novelist. But the journey in between was hell. [laughs] Poetry is so very different from fiction that the skills I had as a poet didn't really help when I started writing a novel. I had to shed some of my poetic sensibilities and had to think like a storyteller. May I never have to go through the same thing again.



Question: Were you pleased that Clinton undertook the first extended African tour by an American President in history? Do you think it will affect any lasting change?

Lucinda Roy: I was delighted that Clinton went to Africa. I thought it was about time. I'm hoping that many people in America will understand for the first time that Africa is a vast continent of enormous complexity. I'm also hoping that Americans will be encouraged to make their own journeys to Africa to give something back, if possible.



Question: Have you ever discussed the problems of African Americans, and those of the rest of the African diaspora, with Africans? What is your general impression of their understanding of the situations, especially in the United States?

Lucinda Roy: I have discussed this with Africans on many occasions, and I think that the range of reactions is vast. Sometimes Africans have a very clear understanding of what the situation is in America and in the diaspora. And other times, of course, this isn't the case. But one thing that struck me as being remarkable is that all of us who are people of color and who trace our roots back to Africa understand something deep and profound about racism. In some ways it's that knowledge that binds us together. As well as our ability to celebrate what is strong enough.



Question: A lot of African Americans responded to the "Back to Africa" movement of the prior generation with distaste, feeling no cultural affinity for the continent. Do you believe that Africa offers a viable psychological rallying point for fourth- and fifth-generation African Americans?

Lucinda Roy: I think I'd be a little reluctant to call it a "psychological rallying point." In fact, I think that is part of the problem with what happened before. I think that some of us who could trace our roots back to Africa tended to think of the continent in an overly romanticized way. We looked to it to nurture us, to make us strong, instead of thinking what it was we could to do for Africa. And those two things were antithetical. In other words we wanted to take, rather than to give. I'm hoping that this time around, we'll respect the integrity of Africa and try to find out what it wants from us, before asking what we can take from it.



Question: LADY MOSES is really the story of Jacinta Moses. Why then entitle the book after her daughter?

Lucinda Roy: I laugh when I get this question, only because I was asked this before the book was published, and I completely understand why someone would ask this question. Let me tell you what I was thinking about when I titled the book. I was hoping that Lady Moses would come to stand for all three generations of women in the book -- that Louise Buttercup would be Lady Moses, that Jacinta, the daughter, would be Lady Moses, and that the child, of course, would also have that name. I was also hoping that the title would show how important it was for Jacinta to claim her child by naming her herself. When she changes Lady's name from "Lydia" to "Lady," she has laid claim to the beauty of her own child, and she will never let her go.



Question: I loved your collection of poems, THE HUMMING BIRDS. Are you working on any poetry now? What role has poetry played in your life? Are you participating in National Poetry Month in any way?

Lucinda Roy: I am working on some poetry. I'm trying to get my third collection together. I want to include a series of poems about the Information Age. And I'm also trying to write a sonnet sequence about sports. And I'm having a lot of fun, although I don't have as much time to work on it as I would like. I'm not really involved in National Poetry Month. Poetry is as central to me as it always was. It is where I sit down and write naked, in the figurative sense. [laughs] It's where I shape my spirit into a form that is recognizable. I will never leave it behind.



Question: I'm curious; what books are on your nightstand now?

Lucinda Roy: There's a wonderful book on my nightstand called POPE JOAN, by Donna Cross. And I highly recommend it. It's out in paperback now. She also sold the movie rights, so I'm hoping for a movie one day. It's the story of a woman called Joan, who according to legend became Pope for two years in the 9th century. It's one of the best-researched books I've read in a long time, and it also happens to be great fun. Every time I read it, I celebrate, because I'm alive in 1998!



Question: How is the experience of being a black woman in London different from that of a black woman in the States? Is this an easy or difficult transition for Jacinta?

Lucinda Roy: Jacinta finds it easier in America than she did in Britain, as a woman of color, but there are lots of complicated reasons for this. It's not necessarily true that there is less racism in America. But it is true that there are more people of color. So Jacinta is able to identify with them. When she goes to the basketball game, for example, she sees the glory in the style of the black players on the court. Something in her rises up and sings. She had not experienced this before.



Question: In your book you write, "Coming back to the past can be a way out of the present." So often we think of people who live in the past, ignoring the present. How does Jacinta find the healthy medium?

Lucinda Roy: At the end of the book, she understands that her mother's past is her present and her daughter's future, and she describes it this way She says that she must not segregate the tenses, past, present, and future. I chose the word "segregate" carefully because of its racial overtones, and I was trying to show that we can liberate ourselves by going back to the past fearlessly and by applying it to our present tense, and by remembering it as we head on into the future. I think that's what Jacinta learned.



Question: At first glance, your novel is the story of mothers and daughters and the love they pass on to one another. Yet, when Jacinta needs answers, she finds them in her dad's homeland of Africa. In the end, who does Jacinta identify more closely with, her mom or dad?

Lucinda Roy: I love these questions! They make me rethink the book. When you write, you don't think, you just write from your heart. It's only afterward, during the rewrite, that the intellect comes in, at least for me. So this is a great question. I think that in the end, she identifies equally with both. This probably sounds like a cop-out, but I don't think it is. Remember that the whole book takes place at her mother's deathbed. It is her mother's death that flings her back into a memory of the past. In a way, once again, her white mother brings her back to a knowledge of her black father. In her journey, she finds them both.



Question: What was your opinion on the effort last year to introduce "multiracial" as a separate ethnic category on the Census?

Lucinda Roy: Political questions are always tough, but I like to give an honest answer, so here goesI think that in theory, introducing "multiracial" as a category is a fine idea. In practice, however, I'm concerned that it will lead to economic hardship for African Americans. I'm worried that the figures would be used to suggest that there are fewer minorities suffering economic hardship, and that multiracial people would also encounter more difficulties due to this new classification. In conclusion, however, I have to say that I think it was inevitable. People are proud of both of their parents. And their desire to express the full extent of their racial heritage is completely understandable.



Question: Do you feel that racism in this world is tearing the world apart to the point where people will not be able to stand one another?

Lucinda Roy: I think that racism is a lot worse than many people believe it is. I think that it's rooted so much more deeply than people would like to believe. And I think it will take many more decades to erase the horrors of racism. On the other hand, I am extraordinarily optimistic about people and individuals. I saw the love my mother had for my father. Although she was white and he was black, their passion was as true as anyone's I have ever seen. The fact that a love like that existed in the 1950s, and the fact that so many of us have deep friendships across race, means that there is hope. We need to teach our children not to be afraid. If we do that, we win.



JainBN: Lucinda, thanks so much for this candid and inspiring discussion.

Lucinda Roy: You're very welcome!



JainBN: Congratulations on the publication of LADY MOSES, and please come again!

Lucinda Roy: I'd love to come again. Thank you so much!


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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2003

    Beatifully Written

    This is a great book. I loved reading this book. It was like going on each journey with the title charater. From her mothers home to her own discovery abroad. Great reading!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2001

    A book to feel, not only read

    Jacinta Moses is very worth every page about her. This book is one I have felt, not only read. Lucinda Roy is an amazing and blessed writer. She now has me wondering what I will be reading once I finish her books? How much autobiography and what part gloriously created? Relationships decoded by a young woman, sometimes too late. Picturesque experiences, all.

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