On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon (2 Cassettes)

On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon (2 Cassettes)

4.0 3
by Kaye Gibbons, Polly Holliday

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Like America in the mid-nineteenth century, Emma Garnet Tate Lowell is at war with herself. Born to privilege on a James River plantation, she grows up more and more aware that her family's prosperity is inextricably linked to the institution of slavery. Bookish and sensitive, young Emma Garnet sets herself against her bumptious, self-made father, Samuel P. Tate, at…  See more details below


Like America in the mid-nineteenth century, Emma Garnet Tate Lowell is at war with herself. Born to privilege on a James River plantation, she grows up more and more aware that her family's prosperity is inextricably linked to the institution of slavery. Bookish and sensitive, young Emma Garnet sets herself against her bumptious, self-made father, Samuel P. Tate, at an early age. In the company of her mother and adored brother Whately, Emma Garnet manages to survive with her heart and mind intact. As she tells her story in 1900, she is still prey to her childhood, to the memories of a life that was made bearable in the main by the indomitable family servant Clarice. Emma Garnet secedes from the control of her domineering father to marry Quincy Lowell, a member of the distinguished Boston family. Living in Raleigh on the eve of the Civil War, she and Quincy, with Clarice's constant help, create the ideal happy home. When war destroys the rhythm of their days, Emma Garnet works alongside Quincy, an accomplished surgeon. Assisting him in the treatment of wounded soldiers, she comes to see the war as "a conflict perpetrated by rich men and fought by poor boys against hungry women and babies." After Appomattox, Emma Garnet sets out to take her exhausted husband home to Boston, where she begins the long journey of her own reconstruction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A plea for racial tolerance is the subtext of Gibbons's estimable new novel, her first foray into historical fiction. Like her previous books (Ellen Foster, 1997, etc.), it is set in the South, but this one takes place during the Civil War era.

Now 70 and near death, Emma Garnet Tate begins her account by recalling her youth as a bookish, observant 12-year-old in 1842, living on a Virginia plantation in a highly dysfunctional family dominated by her foulmouthed father, a veritable monster of parental tyranny and racial prejudice. Samuel Tate abuses his wife and six children but he also studies the classics and buys paintings by old masters. Emma's long-suffering mother, of genteel background and gentle ways, is angelic and forgiving; her five siblings' lives are ruined by her father's cruelty; and all are discreetly cared for by Clarice, the clever, formidable black woman who is the only person Samuel Tate respects. (Clarice knows Samuel's humble origins and the dark secret that haunts him, which readers learn only at the end of the book.)

Gibbons authentically reproduces the vocabulary and customs of the time: Emma's father says "nigger" while more refined people say Negroes. "Nobody said the word slave. It was servant," Emma observes. At 17, Emma marries one of the Boston Lowells, a surgeon, and spends the war years laboring beside him in a Raleigh hospital. Through graphic scenes of the maimed and dying, Gibbons conveys the horror and futility of battle, expressing her heroine's abolitionist sympathies as Emma tends mangled bodies and damaged souls. By the middle of the book, however, Emma's narration and the portrayal of Clarice as a wise and forbearing earthmother lack emotional resonance. Emma, in fact, is far more interesting as a rebellious child than as a stoic grown woman. One finishes the novel admiring Emma and Clarice but missing the compelling narrative voice that might have made their story truly moving.

Library Journal - Library Journal
Though she remains focused on the South and has created yet another affecting heroine, Gibbons's book is something of a departure: Emma Garnett Tate was born before the Civil War, and before her long life is over (she tells this story from the vantage point of old age), she'll head north and marry a Boston Lowell. Emma's father is, predicably, astonishingly cruel to his family and slaves alike, her mother long-suffering, and Emma herself "too eager to know matters that would do her no good in making a marriage."

Gibbons gets all the historical details just right, and the novel opens with a murder that effectively sums up the contradictions of antebellum culture, but in the end this tale does not draw readers in like Ellen Foster and other vintage Gibbons works. Emma's voice is a bit still, a bit bland, though Gibbons has enough power left over to invest her with some very moving moments. Buy where Gibbons is popular.
--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews
Gibbons's first outing after anointment by Oprah is a Civil War tale that's historically researched to a fault but psychologically the stuff of melodrama.

On what may be the last day of her life, Emma Garnet Lowell, ne� Tate, sets out to tell all, from childhood in tidewater Virginia (where she was born in 1830) through marriage, childbirth, the war itself, widowhood, and old age.

Everything about the telling in setting and in people is writ large. Of characters who are bad, central and most horrendous by far is Emma's father, Samuel Tate, a crude, tyrannical, pro-slavery plantation owner who's raised himself from nothing, kills one of his own slaves, collects Titians, and prizes his Latin studies. Least bad is Emma's mother Alice, saint and central martyr to this ruffian and gout-plagued husband and father who curses Emma's unborn children when she marries Dr. Quincy Lowell of the Boston Lowells, and moves to Raleigh, North Carolina, taking with her the faithful, kind, stalwart, true household servant Clarice Washington. In Raleigh will be born the couple's three perfect daughters, and there the war will rage, taking an always-greater toll as the years grind on, supplies grow meager, and both Quincy and Emma work beyond endurance in the horrors of the military hospital. History throughout is summoned up in the tiniest of details "her frock, deep green velvet with red grosgrain running like Christmas garlands around her skirt" and though Emma's voice is intended to be of its period, it unfortunately tends also toward the wearying ("Without my brother, I would not have known to use books as a haven, a place to go when pain has invaded my citadel").

A book of saints, sinners,and sorrows offering much pleasure for history-snoopers (hospital scenes among the best) but finding no new ground for the saga of the South.

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Product Details

Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
2 Cassettes
Product dimensions:
4.11(w) x 7.07(h) x 1.19(d)

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On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is definitely for those who know something about the American Civil War, though you could enjoy it without specific knowledge. It is the archetypal historical fiction that calls to anyone who is interested in either history or how people dealt with historical situations. The author uses her characters to help the reader understand what is happening, but also to pull them into the lives of those characters. By the end of the novel you will be crying and laughing with Emma to the very last page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book about the American Civil War, much of which is a standard grab bag of fictional antebellum plantation life. We're treated to the overbearing father, long-suffering mother, weak-willed brother and, of course, the indomitable house slave who takes charge of both house and family. Not much new. The real reason to read On Occasion is for its vivid protrayal of the hospital scenes during the war. I couldn't help recalling the famous shot in Gone With the Wind, in which the camera pulls back from on high, showing us an ever-widening scene of wounded and dying soldiers, row by grisly row. That scene takes place outside an Atlanta hospital. Gibbons takes us inside a Raleigh hospital where we're given an up-close view of shattered bodies, the tragic outfall of the war. This is the book's most powerful section. Unfortunately, the rest gets watered down by the heroine's calm, overly measured narration. It's a voice of emotional detachment and not terribly interesting. She is perfect, her husband is perfect, her daughters are perfect. All in all, On Occasion is a perfectly pleasant 'afternoon' read, hopefully not your last, but there's not a lot here.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the journey through Emma's extraordinary life. Emma was my favorite of all of Ms Gibbon's characters. I do find that all the fathers in Ms Gibbon's stories are of the worst sort, save Emma's loving husband Dr. Lowell. I love this author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a really good book, but I found it hard to understand. The person telling the story (Emma Garnet) has a scattered mind and is hard to follow at times. I think this book is better for older readers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was, no doubt, excellent . However it was very lacking in continuous action to compell the reader to read on . Even if there was action, it was buried in an overdose of figurative language and oceans of Emma's useless thoughts and speculations that lead you off topic very easily . Very soon, I found my self reading, not a novel, but thousands of scattered words that took hours to comprehend . Although literal comprehension is one of my strong points, I found it difficult in this book . I suppose that if you got into the main story, you would come to enjoy this book very much . However, I do not reccomend a 13 year old (such as myself) to read this book . You will only find one thing interesting about this book, and that is the perculiar dreams that arise when you fall asleep with your head buried in the book .
Guest More than 1 year ago
Have you ever read a book and wondered what happened to the characters? Not this book! Kaye Gibbons takes us through the extrordinary life of our heroine, Emma Garnet Tate Lowell. Finishing this book, all questions are answered and there is a sense of fulfillment. Emma is an inspiring heroine. She is more concerned with her books and ideas than her reflection in the mirror. How refreshing! Thank you, Ms. Gibbons. Just as Ellen Foster has stayed close to my heart, Emma will remain with me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book gives the reader the impression that a loving grandmother really IS recounting her past 80 years. I was entranced with the perspective of Emma Garnet. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has interest in the Civil War or the 19th Century in Raleigh or the South.