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The Orphan Mother

The Orphan Mother

4.9 8
by Robert Hicks

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An epic account of one remarkable woman's quest for justice from the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country.

In the years following the Civil War, Mariah Reddick, former slave to Carrie McGavock—the "Widow of the South"—has quietly built a new life for herself as a midwife to


An epic account of one remarkable woman's quest for justice from the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country.

In the years following the Civil War, Mariah Reddick, former slave to Carrie McGavock—the "Widow of the South"—has quietly built a new life for herself as a midwife to the women of Franklin, Tennessee. But when her ambitious, politically minded grown son, Theopolis, is murdered, Mariah—no stranger to loss—finds her world once more breaking apart. How could this happen? Who wanted him dead?

Mariah's journey to uncover the truth leads her to unexpected people—including George Tole, a recent arrival to town, fleeing a difficult past of his own—and forces her to confront the truths of her own past. Brimming with the vivid prose and historical research that has won Robert Hicks recognition as a "master storyteller" (San Francisco Chronicle).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hicks’s (The Widow of the South) latest yarn opens two years after the end of the Civil War, focusing on freed slave Mariah Reddick, a trusted and sought-after midwife in Franklin, Tenn. Mariah now has a grown son, Theopolis, a cobbler with political aspirations. Mariah becomes acquainted with George Tole, a free black New Yorker whose reputation as a sharp-shooting assassin precedes him to Franklin. But George has been coerced by an evil Franklin magistrate, Elijah Dixon, to do his bidding, and when a political rally at which Theopolis tries to take the stage becomes violent, the young man is killed—but it’s not clear who killed him. The lives of Mariah and George converge as Mariah seeks retribution and George seeks redemption, each playing a major role in unmasking the latent nastiness among the deeply prejudiced Franklin citizenry. Hicks is a talented storyteller, and this story moves at a clip, but it feels deliberate and inorganic, his characters sometimes seemingly just vehicles moving the story forward. Mariah has lost her only son, yet she shows an unbelievable lack of emotion. The bad guys, while compelling, are amusing caricatures. Only George seems truly flesh and blood, and is the most memorable character. Agent: Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary. (Sept.)
Library Journal
For most of her life, midwife Mariah Reddick was a slave at Carnton, the McGavock home in Franklin, TN, that had served as a Confederate hospital and is now in 1867 a cemetery for the war dead (The Widow of the South). As a freedwoman, Mariah lives in town. Her son, Theopolis, a cobbler, is excited to be making a speech in the town square with "a man running for U.S. Congress and other bigwigs." Can just two years have brought so much change? But adapting to Reconstruction is not an easy thing for blacks or whites. George Tole is a freedman from New York. A sharpshooter during the war, he is familiar with death and with taking orders. White magistrate Elijah Dixon enlists George to help him with a matter that requires his skill. Things, of course, rarely go as planned. Theopolis ends up dead, and Mariah is determined to find out who is responsible. VERDICT Hicks's (A Separate Country) bittersweet novel reveals a woman discovering a new sense of self in slavery's aftermath. She becomes driven by a demand for justice, though justice for blacks is almost impossible to imagine. A beautifully rendered portrait for all lovers of Civil War fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 3/28/16.]—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Hicks (A Separate Country, 2009, etc.) extends his Tennessee-set historical saga into the years immediately following the Civil War.The Reconstruction Era was one of the messiest times in American history, not least because establishing civil and political rights for African-Americans newly freed from slavery was left unfinished for another century. That turmoil forms the setting for Hicks' latest, located, as was its predecessor volume, in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. Formerly a slave in the household of Carrie McGavock, the widow of Hicks' title, Mariah Reddick has long been renowned as a midwife, and in this work she has built up both property holdings and local esteem. Her son, Theopolis, has empire-building desires of his own that earn him a bullet and Mariah endless suffering; Carrie assures Mariah that "he was a special boy," but that does nothing to ease the pain except to establish yet another bond between the two women, one forged in "grief and rage so inarticulate and so elemental that [Mariah] would come to rely upon it, like a cane or an extra toe, to give her balance." Now the question is to find out who wanted Theopolis dead, and why. There is no shortage of suspects among the dispossessed planters and crofters "made poor and small by Reconstruction, their punishment for opposing the Republicans and fighting for the Confederacy." The villain of the piece has murkier motives still, but Hicks nicely complicates what otherwise is a historical potboiler with the arrival of a soft-spoken African-American sleuth who digs into the mystery while nursing griefs of his own. Tole has reasons for going after the conspirators who murdered Theopolis, and though Carrie assures Mariah that as the town's midwife "you're the mother of everyone in Franklin," it's a hailstorm of avenging bullets and not kind words that makes this engaging novel pop.Satisfying historical fiction, of particular appeal to readers who live near the banks of the Harpeth or Cumberland.
From the Publisher
"A novel about family and friendship and the boundaries of obligation and loyalty. It's about the power of knowledge and the temptation of revenge, about the psychic and social implications of the end of slavery in a racially unjust society. Filled with beautiful dialogue and finely-wrought characters, the novel is a must-read."—Chapter 16

"THE ORPHAN MOTHER resonates with readers on many levels-as a compelling novel documenting the violent years of Reconstruction, as a heartfelt story of the inner strengths unearthed by a mother confronted with unspeakable sorrow, and as a memorable testament to friendships between young and old, male and female, black and white. The latter offers perhaps a ray of hope in these times of racial injustice we readers are still experiencing, 150 years after the events of this gripping and timely novel."—Bookpage"

Hick's bittersweet novel reveals a woman discovering a new sense of self in slavery's aftermath... A beautifully rendered portrait for all lovers of Civil War fiction."—Library Journal "

Speaks to timely questions about cultural appropriation... eloquent and subtle insights into the struggles of motherhood, relationships and loss"—Atlanta Journal Constitution"

Offers a story of race and redemption...compelling...In Mariah, Hicks has created a strong and noble soul."—Fort Worth Star Telegram"

When you finish THE ORPHAN MOTHER, Hicks's words seep into your soul."—Franklin Homepage"

Hicks is a talented storyteller and this story moves at a clip."—Publishers Weekly"

A fascinating continuation to the saga, THE ORPHAN MOTHER is a historical beauty."—Read It Forward

Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)


Meet the Author

Robert Hicks is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Widow of the South and A Separate Country. He lives in Tennessee.

Brief Biography

Franklin, Tennessee
Date of Birth:
January 30, 1951
Place of Birth:
West Palm Beach, Forida

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The Orphan Mother 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
gaele More than 1 year ago
Starting in 1912, the bequest from former slave Mariah Reddick is substantial enough to construct a chapel or a library. Representatives from this black university wish for the building to be named for her, an honor she refuses. It is not who she is that makes the gift possible, it is the journeys that she and others took to get there, and her wish that opportunities for more and different be afforded to others. Slowly from here, we are told of her story as I unfolded during the years after the Civil War. Surrounded by the losers in that conflict, yet “free” Mariah provides a service to the women of Franklin Tennessee, she is a midwife. As the story unfolds, Hicks takes us through the tensions, prejudices and rumors running rife. Ultimately, Mariah’s story touches on life, loss, love, hatred and fears, and shows in ways that are not unique to the human experience. Persevering and moving forward in her search for answers as she overcomes or simply moves on despite obstacles. Surprisingly resonant in today’s climate, the divisions, the outright hostilities and Mariah’s single-minded determination to resolve the mystery surrounding her son’s death are gripping and viscerally impacting. Hicks has managed to open the door to situations of struggle, loss, societal upheaval and the fear-driven rumors that exacerbate situations, building the world in ways that create visual images and emotional reactions from readers. It’s not always pretty, or particularly comfortable to see the naked hatreds, the prejudices and slights that are blatant and more shocking for their normalcy. A wonderful read that leaves a lasting impression, even for those (who like me) have not read A Widow of the South. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Anonymous 3 months ago
This is a wonderful book. It takes place after the civil war. It is about the killing of a young black man and the love of his mother. I was so surprised it was written by a white man. The author showed such an understanding of the bigotry that was in the town where the son was killed, beautifully written and the author's use of language was wonderful. A good book club book. The story takes place after 1867 but it could be today. Read it in one day, could not put it down
ladyblue2 8 months ago
Written by the author of The Widow of the South, this is another wonderful book by the masterful storyteller, Robert Hicks. I was captivated by the story of Mariah, and by her struggle for justice and healing after the death of her son. The horrors of the Civil War era are not pleasant to contemplate, but contemplate them we must as it's an important part of our shared history. Robert, in this novel, makes you think as he describes the damning realities of war, its aftermath, and the human condition so very well. His writing draws you into the emotions of pain and sorrow and loss, and hope as experienced by Mariah and brings it home. It's a story of the strength of a mother's love and it held my attention from beginning to end with Robert's use of beautiful prose. Mariah's story will stay with me for a very long time. I highly recommend this novel to anyone but especially for those who enjoy historical fiction.
nolenreads 9 months ago
I read this book after reading Widow of the South. Though I can see it as a stand alone, I believe reading WoS added layers to my enjoyment of this book. The Orphan Mother takes place in Franklin, Tennessee. It delves deeply into the life of former slave Mariah Reddick. Her son is a cobbler in town and a very good one. We are introduced to a character named George Tole a black man who fought for the Union as an assassin who builds intricate miniature towns out of scraps. The story is so beautiful and so tragic it is hard to describe without giving away spoilers so I won't. With so many gorgeous passages in the book I am hard pressed to just pick one. Here it is: The dead wore death lightly, but under its weight the living could crumble. There is a bit of Beauty and the Beast in this story. Highly recommended.
KimMc 10 months ago
How does a midwife who's birthed an entire town of babies reconcile when that very town slaughters what she holds most dear? How does a man with a spot on rifle shot reconcile himself to his past and the role he's played in this town? Both seek the same justice, yet go about it differently, as they would with someone who greets life and someone who takes it away. Not to mention it's Reconstruction era Tennessee and said characters are African American, one a former slave, one a born freeman; its mighty dicey for sure. In fact finding, Mariah finds more than she bargained for, and realizes that facts aren't wisdom, and therefore aren't the finality that's sought. The stronghold of hope weaves its way throughout the entire story, whether or not the situation is dire or not, it's all that's left to hold onto in life. Hicks wields a powerful story of transformation and redemption through the eyes of a heartbroken, strong, former slave woman. The words he chooses to convey her story are full of strength and prose, relaying a full, ripe story that resonates with our human condition even today.
Mairzydoatz More than 1 year ago
This is the story of Mariah Reddick, a former slave and a skilled midwife, adjusting to life in the Reconstruction-era South, when her only son is murdered. Mariah's pain and anger are mingled with her quest for justice and struggle to be heard. This is a tale that resonates even today: the fight to find one's voice, then having the courage to use it, and sometimes, dealing with the consequences. This is a beautifully written book and I absolutely loved it, from the first page to the last.
WSteele More than 1 year ago
Having been a fan of his writing since The Widow of the South, I've been waiting for this novel for some time. Though such lengthy anticipation can often leave readers disappointed when a book is finally released, every expectation was met with The Orphan Mother. In his third novel, Hicks returns to Franklin, TN for the setting as the story unfolds during Reconstruction, crafting a narrative of race, social justice, and reconciliation that is as applicable today as it was in the 1860s. While the story reminds us that, unfortunately, we have not advanced as far as a society as we might like to think regarding race, Mariah's story gives hope that we can and should be better. For readers who came to like Mariah's character in The Widow of the South, they will soon love her in The Orphan Mother. It's not often that a novel can lead to substantive discussion of such important issues, but Robert Hicks crafts a story that is insightful for those trying to understand the complexities of the post-Civil War south while resonating with our nation today as we come to understand the how much work we have left ahead of us, 150 years later.
elizsavage13 More than 1 year ago
As a fan of The Widow of the South, I had high expectations for this novel. My expectations were not only met, they were far surpassed! This novel is important. It's poignant. It's a powerful work that asks us to walk beside Mariah Reddick as she navigates the complicated social structure after the Civil War. Her narrative, beautifully told and masterfully detailed, gives us a look at the life she leads. Walking beside her, we have a chance to feel something for her struggle: empathy. Her narrative will change our modern conversation from one of blame and misunderstanding to one of intentional and deliberate exchanges of dialogue. This novel will be important for our national growth as we move toward eroding the walls that have for too long separated us.